Evanston’s alders were told again Monday night that the city hasn’t spent enough to maintain its parks and buildings.
But with no consensus on what to do to reduce the maintenance burden, it appeared the Council is likely to continue the pattern of the past into 2023.
City Engineer Lara Biggs noted, as an example, that the city has 52 playgrounds. Playgrounds, she said, have a useful life of 15 years before they need to be replaced — but 37 of the city’s playgrounds are already more than 15 years old and a dozen are more than 25 years old.
The city also owns about 60 buildings, all of which need periodic upgrades — but just 10% of those buildings are projected to absorb 88% of capital improvement debt funding next year.
And just two of those — the civic center and the municipal service center — are expected to need a total of $80 million in additional work over the next several years.
Ald. Bobby Burns (5th) suggested that the Council’s new Finance and Budget Committee, though it has been meeting for a year, hasn’t had enough time yet to come up with solutions for the capital improvement program issues.
But he said he was uneasy about a proposal to spend $3 million to replace 419 windows at the Civic Center, although Biggs said the windows, last replaced 28 years ago, are failing and allowing water to seep into the building’s brickwork.
A related issue of water infiltration from failing gutters has already required an expensive rebuilding of one section of the civic center’s exterior walls.
Ald. Clare Kelly (1st) said she also opposed spending money to replace the civic center windows.
Kelly was joined by Ald. Jonathan Nieuwsma (4th) in questioning spending to repair the new fountain in Fountain Square downtown when the city is in litigation with the contractor for the project over who’s responsible for the fountain’s failure.
Nieuwsma suggested building a new, smaller, above-ground fountain for the square.
But Burns said the now-failed fountain aligned with Climate Action and Resilience Plan goals that Nieuwsma champions. Burns added that he liked that children could play in the new fountain, and preferred that to the older fountain designs.
If the city were to issue $25 million in new general obligation bonds to fund capital improvement fund projects in 2023, Chief Financial Officer Hitesh Desai estimated that it would cost just under $2 million a year for the next 20 years to pay them off.
That, he said would increase the annual property tax levy on a home valued at $300,000 by about $55.
Biggs said that given staffing limitations the city probably couldn’t manage the full $25 million worth of projects next year, and she sought guidance from the council about which projects should be prioritized.
It appeared clear guidance on those priorities will have to await future City Council budget discussions.