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updated: 10/14/2010 7:30 PM

Batavia mayor favors downtown rec center idea

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  • This is an artist's rendering of the proposed recreation center in downtown Batavia. The glass-enclosed area is where a swimming pool would be, at the southwest corner of Houston Street and Island Avenue.

      This is an artist's rendering of the proposed recreation center in downtown Batavia. The glass-enclosed area is where a swimming pool would be, at the southwest corner of Houston Street and Island Avenue.
    Courtesy of the Batavia Park District

  • An artist's rendering of the proposed recreation center in Batavia.

      An artist's rendering of the proposed recreation center in Batavia.
    Courtesy of the Batavia Park District

  • People in favor of a new recreation center in Batavia have let their feelings be known with signs in the downtown area.

       People in favor of a new recreation center in Batavia have let their feelings be known with signs in the downtown area.
    SUsan SARKAUSKAS | Staff Photographer

 
 

Count Batavia Mayor Jeff Schielke among supporters of a plan to build a combined recreation center, stores and parking garage at Wilson Street, Houston Street and Island Avenue downtown.

"This thing blends in so well to what Batavia has been trying to do for a half-century, Schielke said last week at a news conference.

The event was hosted by the Batavia Park District. It featured the mayor, the city administrator, the park board president, the district director, a representative of Speer Financial, the owner of River West Family Fitness Center and the president of Preferred Development Inc.

Voters will decide Nov. 2 whether the park district should be able to borrow money to help build the center and part of the garage. The referendum asks only for permission to issue alternate-revenue bonds, and the park district says it won't raise the tax rate to pay for the center. Opponents point out that property taxes can decrease if the district's current debt is paid off and not extended by new borrowing.

Schielke compared it to other controversial projects of the past, including tearing down the former high school to make way for a new library, turning the former Holy Cross Catholic Church into a park district community center, and turning former riverside railroad rights of way into the Fox River Trail.

"I just look upon the project ... as another real moment of opportunity to do some stuff to help strengthen the strength and vitality of downtown Batavia, Schielke said.

The downtown is "greater and grander and friendly and a more family-orientated place because of recreational opportunities developed there, he said. "This will be another starship in the history of Batavia and a thing Batavians will be proud to have as a part of their Batavia downtown.

Business support

Does downtown Batavia support the building of a recreation center in the center of downtown?

There are "Vote Yes signs up on the strip center property that would be razed to make way for the project, and in the windows of an empty storefront in a building owned by Batavia Enterprises.

Batavia MainStreet, a nonprofit organization that promotes the economy of the downtown area, has not taken a position on the matter, according to its executive director, Britta McKenna.

The board of directors discussed taking a stand but realized it did not have a formal policy about taking political stands. It also hadn't polled its members and other downtown businesses about what they thought about the issue. So it is sitting this issue out and developing a policy for the future, McKenna said.

"It's a protocol issue, she said.

McKenna does, however, personally support the rec center.

"There is a 'yes' sign in my front yard, the former park board president said. "It is one of those things as a taxpayer I look at as very smart.

She compared it to investing in a market when prices are low construction costs might be lower now due to the poor economy as contractors are hungrier for jobs.

Is McD's renovating?

Throughout public forums this year, city and park officials have said the McDonald's restaurant on Wilson has to rebuild soon per McDonald's corporate policy. If the proposed center isn't built, they said, the McDonald's franchisee will likely apply for a permit to rebuild in its current spot, eliminating the possibility of assembling a parcel for a big development.

The building opened in the late 1970s and does not meet McDonald's USA's current standards for design and decor.

"It's not a requirement that they (the restaurants) have to be rebuilt. But a lot have in recent years, said Nicole McCurtin, communications manager for McDonald's USA Chicago Region. "What we do is evaluate what the facility looks like to determine if it is a good candidate for being rebuilt.

The Batavia McDonald's did fit the parameters for rebuilding, she said.

Pool deep enough?

A recent letter to the editor in the Daily Herald by Jack McCabe of Batavia stated: "A lap or exercise pool is just that, a lap or exercise pool. This one will be 25 yards long but only 3 to 4 feet deep at the ends and 6 feet in the middle, to reduce the wave action of the swimmers. A lap or exercise pool does not allow any diving, which eliminates any competitive swimming events. The proposed pool doesn't meet Illinois High School Association standards for competition, and it will be too deep to teach children to swim.

The Illinois High School Association follows the standards of USA Swimming. The national organization says swim races may be held in pools 4 feet or less in depth. If the pool is less than 4 feet deep, the racers must start the race in the water, not from blocks or platforms.

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