Members of Evanston's Playground and Recreation Board voted Wednesday night to tell aldermen they're opposed to the idea of closing any of the city's recreation centers.
The vote came during a special meeting called to hear from a new community group called Families for Chandler-Newberger. The group is fighting an idea floated recently by City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz that the City Council consider closing Chandler to trim costs to help close a multi-million dollar budget gap.
"Coming to convince us is like preaching to the choir," said board member Randall Mayne.
Mayne said the board members believe all of the city's recreation centers are important — "central to the fabric and allure of our town."
"But our job is simply to advise the City Council," Mayne added. "They can choose to listen or not."
Top: Board members Randall Mayne and Amina DiMarco. Above: Chandler-Newberger supporters at the Rec Board meeting.
Andrew Kasprzycki of 1118 Colfax St., a member of the community group, said that though the recreation center is located in north Evanston, its facilities and programs serve all of the city.
Board Member Bill Logan, a retired Evanston police chief, said he agreed that it's not a neighborhood program. "I have two grandsons living in the 5th Ward, and I've been to Chandler-Newberger to watch them often."
The residents cited city figures indicating that program fees cover 93 percent of the Chandler Center's operating costs.
But the operating costs don't include capital improvements to the aging buildings, and the city has found itself hard-pressed to find funds to repair other recreation facilities in recent years — including the Noyes Cultural Arts Center and the Ecology Center.
The funding shortfall has become so severe that the city is currently considering a proposal to bring in a private firm to build and operate a replacement for the Robert Crown Recreation Center, which houses the city's only ice rink.
The city is already deeply in debt for other capital improvement projects, and aldermen have concluded they can't afford to stick taxpayers with the bill for a new Crown Center.
The Recreation Board resolution said it opposed the "closing, adaptive reuse or outright sale" of the recreation centers.
While board member Amina DiMarco said the group didn't recommend the privatization scheme now being considered for the Crown Center, their resolution didn't mention opposition to privatization.
Bobkiewicz has argued that Chandler, the only one of the city's recreation centers that's adjacent to a mass transit station, has the highest potential for attracting other uses that would stimulate economic development in the city.
He's said that until he receives direction from the City Council about whether it's open to a new use for the property, it's too early to come up with proposals for how the site might be reused, or whether the new use might include a recreation component.
The City Council is scheduled to discuss the issue on July 11.
The center sits on land that is owned by the city, but it is adjacent to land along the North Shore channel that's owned by the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District and leased to the city, which in turn subleases it to the Evanston Wilmette Golf Association.
The golf association has failed to pay its water bill to the city, which has led to recent discussion of whether the city might end up taking over the golf course or finding a new use for it.
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