When the Prescott Bloom state office building opened in Springfield in 1988, a small tree was planted and a plaque was placed near the entrance. They were put there in memory of 3-year-old Jennifer Bloom. Jennifer and her father, who was a state senator from Peoria, both died in a fire at their Peoria home in January 1986. But someone has cut down Jennifer’s tree. All that is left is the plaque and a stump. But this gets worse.
When the Prescott Bloom state office building opened in Springfield in 1988, a small tree was planted and a plaque was placed near the entrance. They were put there in memory of 3-year-old Jennifer Bloom. Jennifer and her father, who was a state senator from Peoria, both died in a fire at their Peoria home in January 1986.
But someone has cut down Jennifer’s tree. All that is left is the plaque and a stump. But this gets worse.
Jennifer’s memorial is used as a smoking area by workers in the Bloom Building, home of the Department of Healthcare and Family Services. There are numerous cigarette butts all around, and even on top of, Jennifer’s plaque. But even that is not all.
A large clump of crabgrass has been allowed to grow until it almost completely covers the plaque.
There is so much wrong with this that it is hard to know where to start.
We will start by attempting to find out who cut down Jennifer’s tree and why. The building, which is leased to the state, is owned by a company called Government Property Fund I. That company, however, does not maintain the grounds.
From there, it was on to the state. It appears the Department of Central Management Services is the agency responsible for upkeep of the building’s exterior.
I called Alka Nayyar in Chicago, public information officer for CMS, on Thursday morning to see if she could confirm that. In an e-mailed statement by CMS sent late Thursday afternoon, CMS says it directed HFS to remove an ashtray that was “inadvertently placed too close to the Bloom memorial plaque.”
If there was an ashtray nearby, not many people used it.
“HFS has indicated it will also request further discretion from its employees,” said the statement. “Although CMS has not received complaints on this matter, it is unfortunate to hear that the memorial in front of the building may not be fully maintained.
“We are contacting the lessor and the property management company to determine what has been done in the past with the memorial and dedicated tree, and what can be done in the future to ensure this solemn reminder of the tragic loss of a child is maintained with due respect.”
The CMS statement hints that the grounds maintenance work is contracted to an outside company. It’s still not clear who is responsible for cutting down the tree or why it was done.
Then there are the Bloom Building smokers. They should be ashamed of themselves. Annie Thompson, spokeswoman for HFS, said as long as employees are far enough away from the front door, they can smoke anywhere.
Yes, but didn’t they see the plaque in honor of Jennifer? Don’t they realize what they are doing? Granted, this isn’t her gravesite, but, still, how callous does someone have to be to use a memorial to a little girl for an ashtray?
Prescott’s wife, Dianne, was out of town the night of the fire. But there was another person at home; the Blooms’ son, Jeffrey,
Jeff, who was 7 at the time, was hospitalized immediately after the fire, in critical condition from smoke inhalation. He is about 30 now and attends grad school in St. Louis. He and his mother still live in Peoria.
I telephoned Jeff Wednesday night to let the family know this column was coming and to tell him what it was about. Jeff and his mother were both stunned to hear about this. They did not know Jennifer’s tree had been cut down.
Even though he was only 9, Jeff recalls attending the dedication of the building named for his father. As we talked, Jeff walked a line between being angry and not wanting to rock the boat. I told him it was OK, I’d take care of rocking the boat on this one.
“It’s bush league,” Jeff finally said of the way his sister’s memorial is being treated, “You can say I said that. It’s bush. … I don’t want to be overly sensitive. And it’s not so much the tree …”
No, it is not so much the tree, though someone needs to explain why it was cut down. It’s his sister’s memory and the fact that it has become an ashtray for some Bloom workers.
Just so you people know, they found Jennifer’s body wrapped in her father’s arms. He died trying to shield that little girl. So take your cigarettes somewhere else.
The workers, whether from CMS or elsewhere, who are supposed to be maintaining Jennifer’s memorial are just as bad. First, they need to clean the area up. That’s what they are paid to do. Pull up the crabgrass that covers the plaque. Remove the cigarette butts.
CMS should order the building’s grounds crew to either plant a new tree in Jennifer’s honor or move her memorial to a more appropriate location outside or inside the building.
Get it done.
Dave Bakke can be reached at (217) 788-1541 or firstname.lastname@example.org.