Last week, the Northbrook Park District announced the results of a survey indicating that residents favor construction of a community center on park district property.
But North Suburban YMCA Executive Director and CEO Howard Schultz believes he has a better idea.
“We have offered the park district an opportunity to partner with the Y to help answer the needs that they’ve perceived,” he told Patch. “We’ve offered this before, we offer this now.”
Schultz spoke to Patch after the park district released the results of a survey conducted springing February to gauge interest in building a community center on the former Anetsberger property adjacent to Techny Prairie Park and Fields, which the district purchased in September for $2.1 million.
According to park district executive director Rick Hanetho, a community center was one of the top requests made by community members in a more extensive survey completed in 2009. Once the park district purchased the six-acre property that previously housed the Anetsberger Brothers Factory, it seemed appropriate to poll residents to see whether a community center made sense on that site.
Schultz, however, said he has already proposed a partnership with the park district that would meet those needs. In 2009, he proposed that the park district construct at least 15,000 square feet of additional space for the community adjacent to the North Suburban YMCA, using park district reserves. Under his proposal, the Y would fund the expense of operating the addition while splitting net profits between the park district and the Y. Schultz said he approached the park district a second time last month.
“We think it’s a good use of community resources to not duplicate existing facilities,” Schultz said. “We’ve made it clear that we’d be interested in partnering with them ever since they did their first survey.”
Nationwide, Schultz said that roughly 40 percent of YMCAs had partnerships with their local park district. He also said that he was concerned about the Y and other sporting facilities in Northbrook, including Five Seasons Sports Club, losing business to the park district. When the Glenview Park District built a new community center, Y membership dropped from 3,000 to roughly half that, he noted, although membership today is back up to 2,300.
“We’re concerned about financial impact, but we’re more concerned about the impact it has on the community,” Schultz said. “Five Seasons, they’re a taxpaying entity. If they go out of business, what does that do to the community?”
Park District Executive Director Rick Hanetho confirmed that the district had been approached by the Y in the past. However, he said the Y was only one of many potential partners the park district might work with—if any.
“It’s premature for me to comment on any potential partnership,” Hanetho said. “There’s no commitment or no guarantee that we’re going to even pursue a rec center.”
Hanetho stressed that a community center was something the park district had discussed for years—and that survey data showed residents want one. In its 2009 survey, the park district asked residents to rank the most important action the district could take. Creating new walking and biking trails and connecting existing ones was ranked highest by the greatest number of respondents, while the second greatest number of respondents supported developing indoor programming spaces.
Hanetho said he had reviewed the 2009 survey this week, highlighting all of the comments that related to building a community center or a rec center with park district funds. Again and again, respondents asked for an indoor fitness space.
“I’m not making this up,” he said. “There’s been no agenda here other than meeting the community’s unmet needs.”
The park district’s survey was just the first step in an extended process of gathering community input, according to Hanetho. Over the next several weeks, the park district will hold several public forums as well as meetings with community stakeholders, including the Y.
Depending on how the community responds, the park district board could ultimately decide to hold a referendum on the question of building a community center, which would likely be funded by increased property taxes and user fees.
“It’s really premature for us to estimate a cost, because at this point, we don’t know what, if anything, we’re going to do,” Hanetho said.
Public forums will be held at the Leisure Center from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. March 7 and 8 and from 2 to 4 p.m. March 13. Residents are asked to reserve a spot in the forum in advance online or by calling the park district at 847-897-6105.