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Abe Tekippe/MEDILL

A plane descends over the 23rd Ward, where many homes and schools have been soundproofed.

Abe Tekippe/MEDILL

Listen to what it sounds like outside of the St. Jane de Chantal rectory when a plane comes in for a landing.

Priests, alderman say rectories near Midway should be soundproofed

by Abe Tekippe
Jan 18, 2011

It begins with a distant rumble.

Then, gradually, it crescendos into a roar, loud enough to awaken the Rev. Edward Cronin from his sleep in the St. Jane de Chantal rectory, located near Midway International Airport.

“There’s no question it wakes me up,” Cronin said of the aircraft noise, adding that it usually starts between 6:30 and 7 a.m. and continues intermittently throughout the day. “It’s my alarm clock.”

As one of three priests living in the rectory, Cronin said he believes rectories, parsonages, convents and other church residences located near Midway should be included in the Chicago Department of Aviation’s Residential Sound Insulation Program. Now in its 15th year, the program uses airline ticket tax revenue to help qualifying homeowners insulate their homes against aircraft noise free of charge.

As the program stands today, church residences are not eligible for the free modifications, which typically include new doors and windows. Only owner- or family-occupied homes with permits issued before June 26, 1997, are covered, provided they meet all of the program’s criteria and are located within the program’s designated boundaries.

Thomas S. Baliga, chairman of the Midway Noise Compatibility Commission, which oversees the Residential Sound Insulation Program, said the program was designed to help residents who are rooted in the community and own homes there. A church rectory is not one of those homes, he said.

“It’s not a permanent residence for the pastors or the nuns. They are residents there, but they’re more of a transient type of person,” Baliga said. “It’s not to say that they don’t contribute to the community — they do — it’s just so cost prohibitive.”

Baliga said the average cost of insulating a single-unit home is around $30,000. He added that because church residences tend to be larger structures, it would likely cost significantly more to insulate them, severely draining the program’s resources.

Still, Cronin said he believes the structures should be included.

“My term here could be as long as 12 to 15 years. There’s always somebody living here or using the facility,” he said, adding that some homeowners stay in the community for shorter periods of time than priests. “A renter pays rent. We don’t pay rent. So who are we, an enigma?”

Ald. Michael Zalewski (23rd) said he supports insulating the St. Jane rectory and possibly another in the 23rd Ward.

“Because of the fact that rectories are where priests live, I would have no problem trying to include them in the sound abatement program,” he said. “St. Jane is well within the [qualifying] decibel level, so I think that one should strongly be considered for soundproofing.”

Any changes to the program’s eligibility criteria would have to be approved by the Midway Noise Compatibility Commission, Zalewski said.

While rectories are not currently included in the program, Baliga said it’s possible the commission will reconsider the eligibility criteria sometime in the future. Until then, he said technology and the quieter plane engines that come with it might be the short-term answer to church leaders’ prayers.

“As technology evolves, the impact of the noise on the churches is less and the sound footprint around Midway and O’Hare has shrunk substantially from what it was 12 to 15 years ago,” he said. “I wish I had a magic wand to wave over the whole Midway area so we could insulate everything, but the reality is there’s only X number of dollars available and technology that can go so far.”