City-school field house plan gets support

Evanston officials say public comment so far at meetings on the city’s indoor recreation needs has strongly favored the idea of collaborating with Evanston Township High School to build a new joint-use field house on the school campus.

Parks Director Doug Gaynor says about 20 people turned out at the Robert Crown Center Wednesday night to advocate for more space for the recreation programs they care about.

Attendance was sparse at a session Thursday night at the Chandler-Newberger Center, but the only speakers also supported the concept.

Carl Bova of 1322 Rosalee St. said letting community groups use the proposed new fieldhouse at the school "is a great idea. We ought to jump on it."

Steve Reinfranck of 1416 Lee St. said he uses the skating rink at the Crown Center. He said the rink is extremely heavily used and that a new facility with two rinks is needed.

"I think it won’t take too many years before it would pay for itself," Reinfranck said, "You’ve got a lot of competition for the space now."

Gaynor says the Crown Center, now more than three decades old, has a variety of maintenance needs and structural issues as well as capacity problems.

A consultant’s report has estimated that basic repairs to the building would cost about $7 million and that to rebuild it from scratch, adding a second ice rink, a second gym and more meeting rooms would cost as much as $31 million, Gaynor said.

ETHS Finance Director Bill Stafford said the school board is developing a five-year capital improvement program. This week it approved the first $5 million dollar phase, which includes funding for artificial turf on the football field.

With that upgrade, Stafford said, community groups will be able to use the field when its not in use by the school, since the artificial turf can withstand much heavier use than a natural grass field.

Stafford said that the school board also wants to explore opportunities for collaboration on the proposed new field house.

"We have no preconceptions," Stafford said, "I’m here to listen and get input and hopefully come out with a better solution."

He said the school needs to expand its indoor recreation facilities beyond what’s available now in its aging field house.

The high school does not have its own ice rink, and high school students use the city’s rink at the Crown Center, located on Main Street east of Dodge Avenue.

A third public meeting on indoor recreation needs is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Wednesday, June 4, at the Fleetwood-Jourdain Center, 1655 Foster St.

The city’s Playground and Recreation Board will then make a recommendation to the City Council’s Human Services Committee about whether to collaborate on the field house project with the school district.

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