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updated: 8/23/2012 5:58 PM

Elgin rec center renovations questioned but approved

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An ongoing renovation project at the Eastside Recreation Center was called into question again by the Elgin City Council Wednesday but ultimately approved by a majority of members.

Unexpected soil conditions created problems with a retaining wall for a portion of the work, prompting a $56,075 request for additional funding. Councilman John Prigge, as he has before, questioned paying for the project now considering the city's tight budget in the context of the Eastside Recreation Center's operating costs.

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"In my heart it's just too much money to do this amount of work at this property at this time, and I can't support it," Prigge said.

In 2010 the city of Elgin subsidized the ERC by contributing $259,700 to cover day-to-day expenses, according to Chief Financial Officer Colleen Lavery, who said the subsidy has remained fairly consistent from one year to the next.

Councilman Robert Gilliam pointed to similar subsidies to The Centre of Elgin, another recreation facility, as well as The Hemmens Cultural Arts Center, which were both more than $800,000 in 2010, according to Lavery.

"Why is it when you do the rec center it's a waste but not at the other two places?" Gilliam questioned Prigge.

Councilman Richard Dunne was the only other member to vote against the expenditure Wednesday. He said structural issues with the building make him unable to support the renovation project.

The rest of the council argued in favor of the upgrades for a variety of reasons. Councilwoman Anna Moeller reminded her colleagues city operations should be run as efficiently as possible, but the goal of the ERC, like other city facilities, is to provide affordable services to residents not necessarily to generate a profit.

Councilwoman Tish Powell said the city's emphasis on economic development should include improvements to its own buildings, adding that the work on the ERC is an example of city attention to the east side she hopes continues.

"A common complaint is that the city is only concerned with Randall Road and downtown," Powell said. "This is something done on our east side."

The total project cost is estimated at almost $2.5 million with 75 percent of it covered by grants. Work has already begun on renovating classroom space with major overhauls of the HVAC and plumbing systems set for coming months.

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