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Almost everyone agrees that the Robert Crown Center is in dire need of serious improvements. At a Jan. 5 Human Services Committee meeting, Playground and Recreation Board Chair Mark Metz described three options: tear down the existing center and replace it with a larger facility; tear down the center and replace it with a facility the same size; or renovate the existing facility.

A decision as to which option to take depends on the result of ongoing negotiations between the City and School District 202 (Evanston Township High School), Mr. Metz said. He explained that ETHS is in the process of completing a five-year capital plan, which includes either rebuilding or renovating the high school’s existing fieldhouse. The City and ETHS are negotiating on jointly building and sharing the cost and use of a new fieldhouse. If the City and ETHS work out a deal, the requirements for a new or renovated Robert Crown Center would change because many of the City’s requirements would be met by the shared-use fieldhouse at ETHS, Mr. Metz said.

Initial planning for the new Robert Crown Center is thus dependent upon whether or not a shared-use arrangement is reached with ETHS. If the City could use the new fieldhouse at ETHS for basketball, racquetball, indoor meeting rooms, volleyball, soccer, lacrosse and other activities, the City would not need to duplicate space for such activities at the Robert Crown Center, said Mr. Metz. The Robert Crown Center could focus on its ice rink, and hopefully answer the demand for a second sheet of ice, he added.

Mark Sloane, a member of the Playground and Recreation Board, said ETHS asked the City to wait until February while high school officials sort out other components of the high school’s capital plan. Until then, the City will not release funds for architectural planning of the new Robert Crown Center, he said.

Members of the Human Services Committee and the Playground and Recreation Board appeared to concur that renovating the existing Robert Crown Center is not a viable option. Renovation would take the Center, and the City’s only indoor ice rink, off-line for several years. The ice surface, and the revenue it generates, is too important to close for such a length of time, they said.

A sense of urgency filled the room for another reason. Several Council members, along with Mr. Sloane, noted the importance of having “shovel-ready” projects to present to Congress when President Obama’s economic stimulus package hits that chamber. Seventh Ward Alderman Elizabeth Tisdahl said she believes the City is prepared. “I have listed this project with Jan Schakowsky and Dick Durbin already,” she said.