rec-board-mayne-img_3098-11

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.

What do you think?

Poll: Who should pay for rec centers?

Related story

Rec center review draws fire in 7th Ward

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation

9 Comments

  1. Keep Chandler – Don’t sell the family jewels

    The City Council needs to shut this conversation down!

    Evanston's demand for recreation space is greater than it's supply, even if you include the Y and school gym space – we simply don't have enough.

    Given that Wally's desperately trying to find things to sell – why not sell our parking garages?   The Alderman just approved a 2.6 million dollar contract to make repairs to them.  I'm guessing parking isn't central to our mission.  

    Frankly, we can battle all day long over which asset to sell, but asset sales are a band-aid at best.  The Council needs to demand more from the City Manager.   He should be discussing pensions and presenting strategic and creative ways to strengthen what makes this community attractive, not quick one time infusions for the budget.  

    Selling off the family jewels to meet structural budget shortfalls won't solve the problem.  Short-term revenues don't change the long-term structural deficits.

    We have to address pensions.  

    The City Manager is proposing using asset sales as a bridge loan.  This is just the type of one-time budget maneuver that was cited in a recent debt downgrade of Arizona's debt by Moody's

    The Budget needs to be balanced and to do so we need to talk about reducing spending on pensions – increasing taxes to cover those pensions – or both.

    This is a time for courageous conversations.   Let's have one.

    1. Yes, but …

      How can we talk about reducing spending on pensions when aldermen and the Evanston Township Assessor are exploring options of getting pensions for themselves?

  2. Parking, parking, parking

    "Given that Wally's desperately trying to find things to sell – why not sell our parking garages?   The Alderman just approved a 2.6 million dollar contract to make repairs to them.  I'm guessing parking isn't central to our mission."

    In every discussion in Evanston, parking seems to come up.

    So are the parking garages costing the city money, or are they a source of revenue?  Do parking fees cover maintenance costs and pay off the mortgage?  Is money from TIF's paying off the construction bonds?  Enquiring minds want to know.

    If the City can make more money by selling the garages, it should.  If it is just a corporate give-away, like the Chicago Skyway, then it should not be done.

    While parking garages bring in some revenue, Chandler does not.   That is the difference.  Either directly (through parking fees) or indirectly (customers park then go to Bravo or Century Theater),  garages can bring in money.

  3. Courageous Conversations – Pensions

    If we start talking about them – then they can explain why and how it makes sense for part time employees to get a defined benefit pension.   

    I can't imagine the argument.  It just makes no sense.

    But, this – pensions –  is the conversation to have.

    Fix the structural issues.

     

     

  4. Assets Battle

    "Frankly, we can battle all day long over which asset to sell, but asset sales are a band-aid at best.  The Council needs to demand more from the City Manager.   He should be discussing pensions and presenting strategic and creative ways to strengthen what makes this community attractive, not quick one time infusions for the budget."

    Like I said:   Parking Garage, Fleetwood Jordain, Chandler, Noyes Art Center.   We can battle all day long over which asset to sell.

    Selling assets is a short term band-aid.

    Deal with the real issue at hand.

    Pensions

  5. Why is Chandler being singled out?

    What about the Evanston Art Center?  Surely that would command a good price being on Lake Michigan.  Other than being in close proximity to transit, why single Chandler out?  Noyes Cultural Art center is also close to rapid transit, and would make a great condos.  Then there is the Ecology Center, the Levy Senior Center, the Robert Crown Center, Fleetwood Jordain and the former Recycling Center.  Or, the what about the three City owned parking garages as another Evanston Now reader suggested.  What about the library?  We know that's a topic that really brings out some opinions!

    These buildings and programs all will have their supporters.  Of course, we would like to be able to keep all of them, but it seems we cannot afford them (our streets don't seem to be able to get paved – especially Chicago Avenue!)- and the bigger, looming question is:  should the City really be in this business of funding the arts, ecology, parking?

    This is the fundamental issue.  Maybe these facilities need to be totally self supporting by private foundations.  Or, specific line items on our tax bill so at least we know exactly how much money these facilities cost us every year, similar the two school districts.  Libraries and recreations departments are often separate taxing bodies in other surrounding towns – and they could be separate here too.  Although, I don't think it saves any money that way – it just makes everyone more aware of the costs. 

    The City should forge a decisive plan with some clear options and put them in front of the voters.  Of course, the voters will need the statistics to help them make an informed decision, such as how much of the services of the facilities are funded with fees, what are the anticipated capital expenses over the next ## of years, how much is the facility utilized, etc.

  6. Chandler is for everyone, for now…

    We live in South Evanston, and Chandler Newberger has been a wonderful part of my daughter's life. We have taken classes there for the last few years.

    The teachers are wonderful and caring. It frustrates me, as a member of the community, that there is discussion in selling off something that should not be for sale. The proximity of Chandler to public transit makes it more accessible for everyone.

    The classes are affordable. It is easier for us to hop on the train and get to Chandler for programs than find a way to get to Robert Crown. I find it hypocritical that the Mr. Bobkiewicz would say that Chandler doesn't "serve the mission of the city" but that a new economic source would be "ideal" so close to pubic transit. Isn't the rec center that is closest to public transit the most accessible FOR ALL RESIDENTS and likely to serve the mission of the city?

    Will the rumored new buyer (NU or the hospital) serve the "mission of the city" ? Don't talk about serving the mission when you are willing to sell away a vital part of what educates and shapes our children into positive and productive citizens.

    Well, I guess I am not sure, at this point ,what the "mission" of the city is. Is it to close community centers and libraries and give every city worker a pension including the alderman who work part time. Those of us who do not work for the city are having other city assets taken away quickly.  Can I choose to pay my city taxes in a percentage that only "funds the mission of the city" as I see it?

  7. Open-Minded

    First, let me say that my family has used Chandler-Newberger for activities and I like that it's there.  It's got Leahy Park right there as well as the golf course… so it's clearly well-situated with other recreation facilities.  Also, I don't necessarily agree that it should be sold off to generate a one-time revenue shot in the arm for the City.  To really address our financial issues, we need to look at the structural issues that have gotten us where we are.

    However, I'm open to something happening here that can maximize the use of the property while addressing  the longer-term needs for capital improvements like facility maintenance.  The City doesn't have the ability to keep this site in the condition that we will expect it to be in (safety, maintenance, programmed space, etc.).  So, I've been thinking about what kind of uses this site would be well-suited for.  At the same time, if this site were to realize it highest and best potential, I think that is something that includes a community recreation center like what is there now.  A public-private partnership to develop this site could offer new development while integrating a new Chandler-Newberger Center and addressing the capital improvement/maintenance needs… taking that burden off the City's budget.

    Residential is an initial default thought, given it's proximity to transit and open space.  But, it's not as desirable as other sites in terms of proximity to shopping along Central.  Who knows what kind of market there will be for that anyways.  Retail… not here.  Office… not really a good fit for here…unless we are talking medical office.  With Evanston Hospital right there, medical office or a similarly related use may make the most sense.  I think that a medical facility and a community center can be complimentary uses as well that would work in a public-private partnership.  I don't know if the hospital has a need for space that could benefit their health/wellness programs, but it's a possibility.  Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital has a health club/rec center facility.  Condell Hospital has similar facilities in Libertyville and Gurnee.  I know other hospitals in Chicago that are looking at similar concepts, including with the Chicago Park District.  The public entity benefits by getting new/refurbished facilities and lower/no maintenance costs. 

    Surely there will be concerns by some about access being limited at times to satisfy hospital programming (I think that can be worked out to everyone's benefit) and if Evanston Hospital did actually do this, the property would remain off the tax rolls.  I'm sure there are other issues I haven't thought of; but, I think just getting the maintenance and capital improvement burden of the City's books is a strong benefit and we would get a new community center.  We shouldn't be so quick to throw up road blocks… let's see if there is a creative way to benefit multiple sides.

    I don't think redevelopment of the site necessarily means we lose a community rec center.  Just a thought I wanted to throw out there.

  8. The Great Evanston Garage Sale?

    Before we consider auctioning off parts of the city, let's be sure we understand what we're giving up for the short-term financial band-aid such actions may provide.  Let's try to avoid selling off the assets that make Evanston a great place to live and work.

    As was mentioned in earlier comments, more transparency with respect to costs, benefits and what our local taxes are used for would be beneficial as it would foster more intelligent discussion and less 'hot-button' fear and anger.

Leave a comment
The goal of our comment policy is to make the comments section a vibrant yet civil space. Treat each other with respect — even the people you disagree with. Whenever possible, provide links to credible documentary evidence to back up your factual claims.

Your email address will not be published.