Northbrook residents gathered at a park district forum to discuss the possibility of a new community center had one major question.
What’s the price tag?
Following near Techny Prairie Park and Fields for $2.1 million, on their interest in building a community center on the site. Of the 678 households that responded to the survey, some 42 percent said that they were “very supportive” of building a community center there, while 21 percent said they were somewhat supportive.
But the two-dozen residents who gathered at Wednesday night’s forum to discuss the survey results wondered how much such a community center would cost—and whether the money would come from tax dollars, user fees or some other source. The forum was hosted by Oak Park-based consulting firm Heller and Heller.
“How will we pay for this?” asked participant Paul Zediker. “That question was lacking in the survey.”
Park District Executive Director Rick Hanetho has told Patch that it is too soon in the process of gathering community input to put a price tag on a possible community center. He said the park district was still gathering information from Wednesday night’s forum, two other public forums and meetings with community stakeholders.
“Ultimately, it’s about delivering what the community wants,” he said. “We don’t know what, if anything, we’re doing to do.”
The park district’s survey did poll residents on how much more money they would be willing to spend per month to develop and operate a community center and to renovate the Leisure Center. Twenty-eight percent of respondents said they were unwilling to pay more, while 28 percent said they would pay up to $4 more per month, 21 percent would pay up to $6 more per month, 12 percent would pay up to $8 more per month and 11 percent would pay up to $9 more per month.
Some Say Community Center Would Unfairly Compete with Y, Five Seasons
Beyond questioning the cost of a park district community center, several participants in Wednesday’s forum also questioned whether a taxpayer-supported property would put private institutions out of business.
“It’s unfair competition,” said Don Wenzel, a 12-year member of the , which is in the midst of a $5.5 capital campaign to conduct renovations. “Other businesses cannot tax people to stay in business.”
Last week, Y Executive Director and CEO Howard Schultz told Patch that . Under his proposal, the Y would fund the expense of operating the addition while splitting net profits between the park district and the Y.
Several people at the forum came to speak up in favor of the Y’s proposal, or at least in favor of partnership.
“It just makes sense to partner with somebody, rather than raise taxes,” said Patricia Widmar, a member of the YMCA’s board of directors.
“There are facilities that are available now,” said Jeff Hay. “Let’s not duplicate them.”
Beyond the Y, forum participants also suggested local school districts and the as potential partners.
But others said there could be drawbacks to partnership, given that the two organizations might have conflicting interests.
“The YMCA is not a park district facility. It’s just different,” said Jodi Wilson. “We don’t have any control over how it’s managed.”
Also in attendance at the forum was Thomas Deere, COO of . He noted that Five Seasons paid several thousand dollars in taxes to the village of Northbrook for 2011. Of that total tax bill, approximately seven percent goes to the park district, according to park district spokesperson Ann Ziolkowski.
“It’s a tough pill to swallow to know that our tax dollars will be going to support another fitness center,” Deere said.
Residents Weigh Best Use of Park District Funds, New Tax Dollars
Besides gauging interest in a new community center, the forum was also designed to solicit input on potential renovations to and the , which was built in 1964.
Simply keeping the Leisure Center up and running would cost millions of dollars, according to Hanetho, while renovations to the space could run $10 to $15 million, he added.
Several residents said they believed the Leisure Center was due for some updates, including more programming for seniors and a fix for the leaky roof. Sportsman’s Country Club, meanwhile, could use an update to its mini-golf course, which dates to the 80s, as well as improvements to the greens, which tend to flood.
Donald Langley, director of program services and innovation at the Y, said he regularly plays golf at Sportsman’s and was dismayed to find that the greens were unavailable for six weeks this summer due to wet weather.
Many community members said they weren’t willing to spend more money on renovations to Sportsman’s Country Club, a result that mirrored the park district’s survey findings. Among survey respondents, 57 percent said they never use the club, while 49 percent said they would be less likely to vote in favor of a referendum to fund renovations to the Leisure Center and construction of a new community center if renovations to Sportsman’s were also included.
Effect of New Community Center on Property Values
While opponents of building a new community center cited increased taxes and unfair competition as reasons not to construct something new, supporters said it benefit the community by raising property values.
“When I moved to Northbrook 25 years ago, Northbrook had the best park district anywhere,” said Cherie Lindskog, adding that residents of neighboring communities came to Northbrook just to participate in its sporting programs, including ice skating and basketball. Today, however, she said she believed the village was falling behind.
“Glenview, Glencoe, Wheeling, Deerfield—they all have community centers,” she said. “I have to think that affects our property values as well.”
Residents who wish to weigh in on the possibility of building a new community center have one last chance to do so. The park district will hold its third and final forum Tuesday, March 13, from 2-4 p.m. at the Leisure Center. Residents are asked to reserve a spot in the forum in advance online or by calling the park district at 847-897-6105.
Editor's Note: This story was updated Monday, March 12, with information on what percentage of a Northbrook resident's total property tax bill goes to the park district.