The Evanston City Council met on Monday night to deliberate on various city matters after last week’s meeting was cancelled due to dangerous weather conditions. With few contentious items on the agenda, the meeting began with a joyous chorus of “Happy Birthday” to Ald. Mark Tendam (6th Ward) and the distribution of celebratory cupcakes to the public, council and city staff. The relatively short meeting included presentations on the renovation of the Robert Crown Center, a report from the Evanston Fire Department on 2013 and a Public Works report on fixing potholes.
Robert Crown Center renovation proposal approved
The Evanston City Council voted unanimously to apply for a state grant to renovate the Robert Crown Center, a community center and ice complex in South Evanston, after reviewing construction options for about an hour. The city will apply to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources for a $2.5 million dollar grant to fund part of the $16.95 million dollar project, according to the presentation by the Assistant City Manager and Chief Financial Officer Marty Lyons.
The proposed renovation includes replacing the ice rink floor and piping, constructing a new library branch in the community center, repairing the building’s structural systems and renovating the locker rooms and team rooms. The city voted for the renovation option instead of one of the proposals for building completely new structures, Lyons said, because they think they can more easily receive a grant to renovate. Also, a renovation would most likely be more profitable than rebuilding, as the options ranged up to a proposed $43 million dollars, according to Lyons.
The renovation proposal for the Center, while the least costly option, could still accumulate $33.7 million dollars in debt for the city over 30 years, Lyons said in his presentation.
One member of the community spoke out vehemently against the expenses of the renovation project.
“Basically there are things that need to be done at this recreation center,” said Junad Rizki, a 30-year Evanston resident. “But quite frankly, the city does not have the funds.” Rizki spoke against the tax burden the renovation could place on the public.
Additionally, there is no guarantee the renovated center will be profitable, especially given the consulting firm the city hired said Chicago’s North Shore has a surplus of ice rinks. However, Lyons said the city can capitalize on ice’s popularity following the Olympics and the success of the Chicago Blackhawks. But most importantly, Lyons said, “Community centers are not built to be moneymakers — they’re community centers.”
Lyons is confident the city will receive the grant, as the city’s staff has “done their homework” over the two years they have been developing the project. City council members also spoke about pursuing private donations to fund the renovation.
Shani Davis, the multiple gold medal winning U.S. Olympian who hails from Evanston, learned to speed skate at the Robert Crown Center when he was six.
2013 Annual Fire Report
In 2013, the fire department received a record high number of 9,373 calls, Evanston Fire Chief Greg Klaiber said as he presented the 2013 Annual Fire Report to the council. A majority of the calls were for emergency medical services, and only 129 calls were confirmed fire calls, according to Klaiber. Klaiber also said fire destroyed an estimated $2.77 million dollars worth property in 2013, though the firefighters saved 97 percent of the property involved, thereby rescuing $105 million dollars worth of property.
In 2014, the Evanston Fire Department will premiere their first ever Citizen’s Fire Academy, which will allow any interested citizen to take courses on fire safety and get hands-on knowledge of how the fire department works.
Public Works fixes potholes
Since Jan. 1, public works crews have been out on the streets of Evanston filling in potholes, but snowstorms continue to roll through town and reverse the progress, said James Maiworm, assistant director of public works, in his presentation to city council. The city has used 235 tons of patching material total this winter, and covered 52 miles of road on just Feb. 13 and 14 alone, according to Maiworm.
“It’s a consistent battle,” Maiworm said, explaining that the work the crews plan to do this week filling in potholes on secondary roads could very well be destroyed by the snowstorm forecasted for the upcoming weekend.