Slowly but surely the recommendation by the Lords Park Task Force to replace the bison fencing in the park's zoo is moving forward.
Elgin City Council members voted Wednesday to grant preliminary approval to develop final specifications for the fencing and initiate the bid process. Importantly, however, the council has yet to approve the fund allocation for the project.
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Councilwoman Tish Powell clarified that point to open discussion of the project at the committee of the whole meeting.
Various estimates have been presented to council members since the beginning of the year, the most recent setting the total cost at just more than $68,000 -- an amount city staff members acknowledge is conservatively high.
Laurie Faith Gibson-Aiello, an active member of Friends of Lords Park Zoo, said the fencing is not expected to cost any more than $50,000 -- the number initially proposed to the council when Elgin tentatively budgeted to paying half and the Friends group committed to raising the rest.
Friends of Lords Park Zoo has raised $17,000 with another $8,000 committed as long as the money is spent in August. Gibson-Aiello and other members say now is the time to move forward on the project.
"There are funds in the current budget, and they were set aside for things like this," Gibson-Aiello said.
Council members voted unanimously to request bids for the project Wednesday, less than a week after one of the last remaining bison died of old age. With just one bison left in the herd, city officials must decide whether to fund the fencing project and add more animals or phase out the bison's presence.
According to Friends of Lords Park Zoo, animals have been in the zoo since 1897, first with black bears and peacocks and later with bison.
"If you think about the history, that's important," Gibson-Aiello said. "The bison were obliterated. Back in 1905 it was a really special thing that Elgin had bison."
If the bison fence is erected, the city will be able to accept male bison -- offspring of an Elgin bison that died in 2009 -- from the Midwest SOARRING Foundation. Fermi Lab and Brookfield Zoo have also offered to donate female bison to help grow the herd.
Council members will officially approve the call for bids at the full council meeting on Aug. 10.