RANTOUL — Rantoul Mayor Chuck Smith has ordered a large section of standing water to be pumped out by village crews and fencing erected to keep people away from a portion of the former Chanute Air Force Base hospital.
Smith estimated a pond 10 feet deep had developed on the east side of the mammoth hospital site that formerly tended to the needs of Air Force personnel and their families, and more recently housed migrant workers until it was shut down last year.
So large was the pond that frogs could be heard singing their "songs" there Thursday morning.
A large amount of debris, including several barrels and other items, were floating in the water.
Smith said he learned of the problem Thursday from a resident.
He said he met with Village Administrator Rick Snider, and the decision was made to pump the water and restrict access to that part of the site.
"Plans are to enclose the area for the issue of public safety," Smith said. "They will pump the water into our sanitary system."
Smith said he was told that the property owner did not pay the utility bill, and the power was shut off.
Electrical panels at the site became wet. Once the water is pumped out and the panels dry out, pumps will be placed at the site to automatically pump out the water so the problem does not return, Smith said.
He said a vacuum truck will pump out the water in the meantime.
Smith said the standing water posed a hazard. There are a number of children in the area. The neighborhood is home to Little Wings Childcare and Learning Center and the Head Start program, which is located across the street.
A spokesman for the Champaign County Recorder's Office said property taxes have not been paid on the old hospital for three years.
"As of May 4 of this year, the Champaign County trustee will go to court to get the deed to the property, and then from there, it goes to our annual county auction," the spokesman said.
If no one bids on the property, it will remain in the county trustee's name and will go up for auction again next year.
The property has been owned by a company called Unique Storage Inc., which bought it from Timothy A. and Sandra L. Mathews for $10,500.
The condition of the former hospital is part of a larger issue facing the village of Rantoul. Several properties on the former base are left to run down, the areas are overgrown with trees and brush, and litter accumulates.
Village Trustee Rich Medlen raised the issue at a recent village board meeting. He would like to see the owners of derelict base properties held accountable.
Smith agrees, but said going through the courts takes a great deal of time.
"We have talked to property owners, but experiencing litigation (with those owners) in Rantoul is a very drawn-out and slow process," Smith said.
He said the village needs to look at various avenues so the properties can be cleaned up.
Dave Hinton is editor of the Rantoul Press, a News-Gazette Media community newspaper. For more, visit rantoulpress.com.