DuPage park districts 'scrambling' with state grants suspended
With promised state grants suspended, many projects are put on hold
Major park district projects are in jeopardy across DuPage County in the wake of Gov. Bruce Rauner's decision to suspend already promised state grants for park construction and land acquisition.
Plans to buy land that almost became a gas station near Glen Ellyn, to add amenities to a park in Bloomingdale, to create a new recreation center in Roselle, to build an indoor turf center in West Chicago, and to improve a fitness facility in Aurora all were put on hold after park district officials received word of the grant suspensions Thursday.
In Naperville, work on a $24 million activity center will move forward, but the district will make adjustments to the plans and delay at least one other project after losing $2.5 million from the state.
Rauner's office said it asked all recipients of grants dating at least to 2013 to halt construction and stop taking on costs. Suspending grants was necessary because the state has a $1.6 billion deficit, the governor's office said.
"The governor's budget office is taking actions necessary to address the fiscal crisis that the governor inherited," Rauner's office said in a statement.
DuPage park directors said the move leaves them "scrambling" to find money for projects they've already planned, "heartbroken" that promises made to their communities might fall by the wayside, and "seeking clarification" about whether the grants ever will come through.
Here's a look at how several park districts are affected:
When Butterfield Park District got word Jan. 3 that it would receive a $750,000 grant to buy land next to its largest park, Executive Director Larry Reiner thought it was the last piece in a puzzle to prevent the property from being developed as a gas station.
On Thursday, the grant was indefinitely suspended.
"We're scrambling right now," Reiner said as the district tries to make up for the grant amount that is "almost one year worth of tax dollars this district collects."
The district won voter approval in November to borrow nearly $3 million to buy the 2.4-acre site at Butterfield Road and Route 53, where a gas station had been planned. That amount includes $500,000 to make improvements on the site and $985,000 for updates to other parks.
The land owners offered to sell for $1.5 million, but half of that money was to come from the state, Reiner said. The district has only until July to raise the money needed to buy the land, which the Naperville-based Conservation Foundation is holding in an agreement to help block the gas station project. Reiner said he's asking the foundation for more time.
"This property needs to be preserved," Reiner said.
But he wants to avoid shifting money committed for improvements at other parks to buy the land.
"When promises are made, promises need to be kept," Reiner said.
Plans for an indoor activity center were in the works before Naperville Park District was promised $2.5 million last July. And the park district plans to go forward with construction of the $24 million facility beginning with a groundbreaking April 9 despite suspension of the state funds, Executive Director Ray McGury said.
The district will delay a $400,000 renovation to its Riverwalk Eatery, look for savings on materials for the Fort Hill Activity Center and use reserves to fill the remaining gap.
Delaying the project to redesign it likely wouldn't cut costs because bid prices might increase and the district would owe its architect and construction manager another $1 million, McGury said. So plans to construct the center with basketball courts, a walking track, fitness center, multipurpose rooms, an indoor playground and a cafe are moving forward.
"It doesn't mean that we are going to stop the project or make any drastic changes," park board President Mike Reilly said.
Bloomingdale Park District was to receive $224,000, half of the $448,000 total for improvements to Circle Park that would include a new playground, a skate park, adult outdoor fitness equipment, rain gardens, stormwater improvements, signage to explain wetlands and renovations of a roller rink so it can be frozen for ice hockey.
Executive Director Carrie Fullerton said suspension of the grant means replacement of the playground is the only aspect the district can afford.
Fullerton said she heard no indication throughout the application process that the money might not be there, and now she's devastated on behalf of the community.
"We've done a lot of sharing with our community about the changes that are going to happen at this park and the community's excited," Fullerton said. "I was heartbroken for Bloomingdale because I think the kids and the families and the people that live around here would love to have that park revitalized."
A $4 million project to create an 11,000-square-foot recreation center at Turner Park was supposed to receive $2.47 million of grant money that now has been suspended.
Executive Director Rob Ward said plans include demolishing a 1950s-era building that sits closed on the site and building a new facility to host fitness classes, cultural arts, musical instruction and serve as a warming center for nearby outdoor fields.
The project also included a basketball court, a new gazebo for community band performances and a picnic shelter.
The district already invested $112,000 on designs and was about to seek bids in advance of breaking ground in June.
"Clearly with the suspension, all that has stopped," Ward said. "To go from believing this was something that our community could achieve to having it just stop, we are currently in a stage of seeking clarification and trying to get direction from the state."
Construction of a $3.5 million indoor turf field center in West Chicago that would have gotten $2.5 million from the state is on hold, Executive Director Gary Major said.
The indoor turf facility was planned for Reed-Keppler Park, adjacent the park district's new Athletics Recreation Community center. The district has spent roughly $80,000 or $90,000 on design and engineering, but put the brakes on the project Friday.
"It's a $3.5 million very nice, versatile, revenue-generating facility that won't happen -- or at least at this point in time won't happen," Major said.
The Fox Valley Park District in Aurora, Montgomery and North Aurora is awaiting $2.8 million in suspended grants, with the majority -- $2 million -- promised for Prisco Community Center.
Spokesman Jeff Long said the plan was to triple the fitness center space within Prisco from 1,500 square feet to more than 5,000 square feet.
The project called for larger group and senior fitness facilities, more early childhood classrooms and renovated locker rooms. Other suspended grant funding was promised for Jericho Lake Park and Copley I Park.
Contracts have been approved, but work has not started on Jericho Lake Park, which was to get $400,000 for two new shelters, a dock and floating pier, a new parking lot, restrooms and a regional trail connection.
One aspect of work planned at Copley I Park, new ball field lights, likely will go forward even with the suspension of a $400,000 grant for the project. But other features including a new shelter, playground and other ball field upgrades, are on hold, Long said.