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posted: 2/20/2012 5:30 AM

Arlington Heights parks seek $48 million

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  • If a $48 million bond issue is approved March 20, the Arlington Heights Park District would turn this Works Progress Administration building at Recreation Park back into a bathhouse and build a new community center.

       If a $48 million bond issue is approved March 20, the Arlington Heights Park District would turn this Works Progress Administration building at Recreation Park back into a bathhouse and build a new community center.
    Bill Zars | Staff Photographer

  • The back side of the community center at Recreation Park in Arlington Heights, which was built in 1937. If a $48 million bond issue is approved March 20, the Arlington Heights Park District would turn this Works Progress Administration building at Recreation Park back into a bathhouse and build a new community center.

       The back side of the community center at Recreation Park in Arlington Heights, which was built in 1937. If a $48 million bond issue is approved March 20, the Arlington Heights Park District would turn this Works Progress Administration building at Recreation Park back into a bathhouse and build a new community center.
    Bill Zars | Staff Photographer

 

As the Arlington Heights Park District gears up for a series of public meetings on its plan to borrow $48 million to renovate four of its five major parks, two local groups are criticizing the plan.

The proposed changes are ones residents supported in studies and community meetings, said Stephen C. Scholten, park district executive director. Lower interest rates and construction prices make this a good time to do the work, he added.

The park board is asking residents to approve the 25-year bond issue in a referendum question on the March 20 ballot.

"It's a natural extension of the community survey we did in 2009 and the master plans in 2010 and 2011," Scholten said. "The next step in the democratic process is to say to the community, 'Is this something that you're interested in the park district doing, and if so, are you willing to pay for it?'"

Opponents say times are tough, so raising taxes now is not a good idea. And they challenge the district's math.

The 25-year bonds will be structured so the owner of a $300,000 home will pay an average of $36 more per year to the park district, park officials say.

They say payments on the new bonds will kick in just as a $15 million bond issue, taken out in 2000 to renovate four pools, will be paid off, lessening the impact on homeowners. By itself, the retired bonds will lower the tax bill on a $300,000 house by about $60 a year.

The park district is structuring the new bond payments to gradually rise over the life of the bond issue. Officials say that increase will be covered by new property coming onto the tax rolls, which over the past 17 years has amounted to an average 1 percent a year increase.

Roland G. Ley, of Northwest Suburban Taxpayers United, argues the real cost of the referendum is at least $88 -- not $36 -- for a $300,000 house. He says the increase should be calculated after the $60 is taken off the bills, not before. He also disputes that the park district can count on an average 1 percent increase in new property, saying there is no way to know what future increases will be.

Members of the Arlington Heights Tea Party also have spoken out against the bond issue at public meetings.

"Typically parents who have young children are for it, and everybody else is against it," said Arthur Ellingsen, the group's founder. His organization has 150 people on its email list.

The four parks to be renovated are Camelot, 1005 E. Suffield Drive, and Frontier, 1933 N. Kennicott Drive, both in the north part of the village; Heritage, 506 W. Victoria Lane, on the south side; and Recreation, 500 E. Miner St., in the center of the village.

The fifth community park, Pioneer, centrally located at 500 S. Fernandez Ave., was improved in 2008.

The park district will have to change its priorities if the referendum fails, Scholten said. It can borrow $11 million without voter approval, he said, which is enough money to do the projects in one of the parks. However, that could not be repeated for another 25 years without voter approval.

"What we're telling people is we don't have enough money to do the renovations you would like us to do," he said. "We could make the current rooms more pleasant; I don't know if we could add square footage. To add a 10,000-square-foot gym on to a building you would have to do all the associated hallways, etc."

Trying again at the November general election is an option if the bond sale is rejected in March, Scholten added.

A citizens committee to support the referendum is forming, he said.

People use recreation centers differently these days than in 1969 when three of the centers were built, district staff members say. The fourth center in Recreation Park dates to 1937 when it was built as part of the Works Progress Administration, the Depression-era jobs program.

Facilities today need large multipurpose areas, according to staff reports. And residents also want fitness centers and walking or jogging tracks.

The construction projects would provide accessibility for people with disabilities and those who use child strollers, as well as improving energy efficiency. Parking lots and drop-off areas would be expanded. Athletic fields, game courts and garden plots also would be rebuilt or improved.

Among planned improvements:

• Camelot's center would be renovated, and a new gymnasium and indoor walking path would be added.

• At Frontier, the community center would be demolished and a new one built in the same spot. The existing bathhouse would remain. At 44,500 square feet, the new center would be about twice the size of the district's other centers and would house a double gymnasium and indoor walking path.

• The Heritage center with gymnasium and indoor walking path would be relocated, but the bathhouse would remain.

• At Recreation, the Works Progress Administration center would be returned to its original use as a bathhouse and a new center with gymnasium and indoor walking path built. The historic building poses a challenge, staff says.

"It's an iconic building in town and a piece of American history," Scholten said. "At the same time, we have a responsibility to provide appropriate space for the programs we offer. We had to weigh both of those, and I think it's a great plan."

• Other parks would receive a total of $3.8 million in capital improvements.

Residents are invited to ask questions or make comments through the district's website, ahpd.org, or by calling Scholten's office at (847) 577-3007.

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