Activity center tops Naperville park spending priorities
Naperville Park District is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2016 with the opening of its largest project, the $24 million Fort Hill Activity Center.
A $59.3 million spending plan park board commissioners are set to approve Tuesday reflects the focus on the activity center, with $9.7 million going toward it next year. Officials say the budget dips into $15 million of reserves to fund the activity center and other capital improvements, completing a planned drawdown that allowed the district to build the center using money saved over time instead of asking for a tax increase through a ballot question.
"We're spending money we have saved in the bank for that purpose," Finance Director Sue Stanish said.
Park leaders say there isn't a large tax increase coming next year, but the owner of a $325,000 house -- the average in the district -- can expect to owe an additional $4 or $5 a year. That will bring the total taxes for park services to roughly $320 for the average homeowner, Stanish said.
Other highlights among the district's planned $20.3 million in spending on capital projects include demolition of the Barn Recreation Center, the beginning of construction of a new central maintenance facility in Knoch Park, renovations to the Riverwalk Eatery, and a first phase of field improvements at Frontier Sports Complex.
Executive Director Ray McGury said spending likely will dip after the next two years. But for now, he said the focus is on finishing the activity center and opening more spaces for use by people with special needs, seniors and families to engage in fitness and recreation programs.
Before the park board votes on next year's budget at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the south maintenance facility at 3415 Book Road, here is an overview of top projects.
The structure is coming together and soon work to complete the Fort Hill Activity Center will take place "under roof," said Eric Shutes, director of planning.
"At this point, we're exactly where we want to be as far as the schedule to be open in summer of 2016," Shutes said. "Everything is moving along smoothly."
The facility at 20 Fort Hill Drive will add 80,000 square feet for a fitness center, track, cafe, gymnastics area, indoor playground, multipurpose rooms and gym space.
Director of Recreation Brad Wilson said the district plans to hire 75 people, nearly all of them part-time, to work in activity center positions including facility manager, program instructors, registration clerks, child care providers, custodians, maintenance workers and cafe staffers.
"We want to make sure when the activity center opens we have the programs and the people in place so it can get off to a smooth start," park board President Mike Reilly said.
The need to hire employees before the center opens will create a $111,885 deficit in next year's budget, but district leaders said that's not expected to happen again once users start paying for programs.
The maintenance shop in Knoch Park was built in the 1960s or 1970s and doesn't meet safety codes anymore, McGury said. So it's time to replace the old shed with a new $7.8 million facility.
The district plans to spend $3.9 million next year to prepare it to open in mid-2017.
"We're simply building a facility to take care of the amenities that the public enjoys day in and day out," McGury said.
Aside from space for maintenance equipment, the building will include restrooms that will be open to park users.
It will require demolition of the nostalgic Barn Recreation Center, which is scheduled to begin after a 50th anniversary celebration that will highlight activities that used to draw Naperville residents to the barn. Dancing and a battle of the bands could be incorporated into an event being planned for June, McGury and Reilly said.
Plans to update the Riverwalk Eatery with a new menu and an outdoor patio and rename it the Riverwalk Cafe stalled earlier this year amid concerns about the intention to sell alcohol and calls for more public input.
After receiving nearly 1,000 survey responses, the district has revived those plans with one addition: new bathrooms.
The project now is expected to cost $500,000 under a bid the park board can approve Tuesday. That's a $50,000 increase from the previous budget of $450,000. Extra money will be spent to turn the bathrooms, which include a maze of confusing extra doors, into an efficient setup.
McGury said the district intends to sell -- and carefully monitor the consumption of -- beer and wine at the site, pending park board approval of the idea and city council approval of a liquor license.
"People are looking for a little more out of that facility," Reilly said.
Multipurpose fields on the east side of the sprawling Frontier Sports Complex will be improved with new irrigation, and grading and a new restroom facility will be added to the west side in a $1.4 million project.
Wilson said four fields used for sports like soccer and lacrosse will be improved in 2016, with another four set to receive upgrades in 2017.
Also planned for next year is construction of a paved path for easier access to fields in the center of the park, which Wilson said some spectators have struggled to reach in the past.