A decision to spend $273,000 to replace three boilers at the Hemmens Cultural Center was called "a catch 22" by one Elgin councilman and "insanity" by another.
The Elgin City Council voted to award the contract to F.H. Paschen with an 8-0 vote on Wednesday. Councilman John Steffen was absent. The city's parks and recreation department will fund the expense.
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Without new boilers, the Hemmens might not be properly heated come this fall, Elgin Building Maintenance Superintendent Rich Hoke said.
One boiler has been out of service since mid-May, while the others are "in pretty bad condition," he said.
Councilmen John Prigge and Terry Gavin said they understood the need for the expense, but also expressed frustration that the Elgin Symphony Orchestra, the Hemmens' largest renter, owes the city of Elgin about $304,000 in back rent.
"That could pay for this, and some," Prigge said.
ESO stopped paying rent two years ago after it stopped getting grants from Elgin, when city officials decided that only service nonprofits would be eligible for riverboat grants. ESO and the city have been in discussions since September to find a debt resolution, possibly with a payment plan.
"I'm about ready to lose my mind on this issue, I really am," Prigge said. "This is probably the most distasteful bid I'm going to have to award in four-plus years."
Later, he added, "It's insanity, and I hate being forced to play into insanity."
Councilwoman Carol Rauschenberger pointed out that the city of Elgin, not ESO, owns the building.
Councilman Terry Gavin called the situation "a catch 22."
"It's damned if you don't, damned if you do," he said, adding, "Its our responsibility so we have to step up and do it, but when is ESO going to step up?"
ESO wouldn't be the only organization affected by heating problems at the Hemmens, Mayor David Kaptain said. Another major renter is The Salvation Army, which prepares 250 lunches there for senior citizens, five days a week, he said.
The city's projected 20-year capital plan for the Hemmens through 2033 accounts for $2 million or so in expenses, including roof repairs and painting, HVAC improvements, epoxy flooring for the lower level, carpeting and more. The work is required to maintain the facility in sound, working order, city staff said.
The boilers are 18 years old, the average life span for the equipment, but they have deteriorated more quickly because of condensation issues, Hoke said.
The new, higher efficiency boilers will prevent condensation problems and result in energy savings, Hoke said. He hoped the work would be finished by early October.