CHICAGO (CBS) — Construction workers have officially started work on the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park, after years of delays.

Crews were on the 19-acre site in Jackson Park early Monday. The Obama Foundation said, so far, it has awarded $120 million in construction contracts, with more than half of the work going to women- and minority-owned firms.

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The center was delayed amid a lengthy federal review that was required because the project is being built in Jackson Park, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and because the plan includes closing and expanding major streets that run through and near the park.

That review by the National Park Service and the Federal Highway Administration determined the center and planned roadway changes in Jackson Park “would not have a significant impact on the environment,” according to the mayor’s office.

Plans approved by the Chicago City Council include closing several roads in Jackson Park and replacing them with new green space, and widening or reconfiguring other streets in the neighborhood.

City officials said the traffic plan will create five acres of new parkland by converting several roads in Jackson Park into green space:

  • Cornell Drive between North Midway Plaisance and Hayes Drive;
  • South Midway Plaisance between Stony Island Avenue and Cornell Drive;
  • Marquette Drive between Stony Island Avenue and Richards Drive;
  • Northbound Cornell Drive from 68th Street to where Cornell Drive becomes two-way

Other nearby roadways will be redesigned to handle increased traffic and improve access in and around Jackson Park:

  • Adding a third southbound lane on Lake Shore Drive from 57th Street to Hayes Drive;
  • Improving capacity and safety on Hayes Drive between Lake Shore Drive and Cornell Drive;
  • Adding a lane in each direction on Stony Island from 59th Street to 65th Street, while maintaining on-street parking and loading lanes;
  • Adding planted medians, left turn lanes at key intersections, and pedestrian refuge islands to enhance safety on Stony Island;
  • Reconfiguring the intersection of Stony Island, Midway Plaisance and 59th and 60th Streets to improve capacity and pedestrian and traffic safety;
  • Building new pedestrian underpasses in Jackson Park under Hayes Drive west of Lake Shore Drive and two under the new Hayes Drive and Cornell Drive intersection;
  • Adding new pathways within Jackson Park to provide key connections for people biking or walking through the park;
  • Upgrading or installing seven traffic signals in the area, allowing synchronization of traffic and bus traffic signal priority technology.
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The $174 million roadway work will be funded by the state.

The project also faced multiple lawsuits that unsuccessfully sought to block the center from being built in the park.

Construction is expected to take four years to complete, and the Obama Foundation has estimated the center will cost approximately $500 million. Once it is built, the city would own the campus, but the center would pay to maintain it. The Obama Presidential Center will be privately funded, and the foundation will pay the city $10 to lease the land for 99 years.

The center will include a 235-foot stone tower housing the site’s museum; a Chicago Public Library branch; a multipurpose space on top of the museum, a program, activity, and athletic center for community programs and events; a Great Lawn for social gatherings, barbecues, a nature center; and new walking and biking trails; a children’s play area; and a fruit and vegetable garden and teaching kitchen.

The center will not include a formal presidential library operated by the National Archives and Records Administration. Rather, Obama’s collection of presidential documents and artifacts will be stored in existing NARA facilities, and non-classified documents will be available online.

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A ceremonial groundbreaking is being planned for the fall.

CBS 2 Chicago Staff