DuPage Forest Preserve officials are poised to approve improvements for St. James Farm, and to keep Willowbrook Wildlife Center waiting, after a move to refinance $38 million in debt generated less savings than estimated.
The forest preserve commission voted last month to refinance $38 million at lower interest rates, anticipating the district would save about $2 million.
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With that savings, commissioners planned to borrow another $4 million to upgrade both St. James Farm near Warrenville and Willowbrook Wildlife Center in Glen Ellyn without raising property taxes.
But on Tuesday, finance director Jack Hogan told commissioners interest rates rose after the vote and now the district has only about $2.7 million to dedicate toward the projects.
That's not enough to tackle work at both preserves, so staff members recommended putting all $2.7 million toward connecting St. James' water main and sewer systems to the Wheaton water and sewer systems to make the preserve more accessible.
The project's estimated cost is $2.6 million, and staff said it would allow the district to begin providing public access to sites like St. James' indoor horse arena and show stable.
Staff members said they chose the St. James project because Willowbrook Wildlife Center has a better chance of landing grants for improvements.
Commissioner Roger Kotecki said any money left over from the St. James water project should be used to restore natural areas at the preserve.
"If (St. James) is going to be a showcase for cultural events, it should be a showcase for a healthy forest," Kotecki said. "We ought to make that a first-rate, beautiful woodland for people to see."
Under the St. James master plan approved in 2010, the preserve is due for a total of $4.9 million in upgrades, including the water and sewer project. The rest of the plan includes upgrading the aging riding arena and show stables for $1.6 million; removing and replacing the east farm area restrooms, while also making them comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, for $470,000; and improving the picnic pavilion for $175,000.