During the City Council meeting on June 13, City Manager Wally Bobweiwicz confirmed rumors that have been swirling around in the community for months: The City is considering a “higher and better use” other than a recreation center for the Chandler-Newberger Center, located between Central and Lincoln streets near Ridge Avenue. Council will take up the matter at the Administration and Public Works Committee on July 11, he said.
Residents did not need confirmation to act, however. In May, aware of a rumored closure, Marie Lynch and Jaime Vehovsky formed Families for Chandler-Newberger, which Ms. Lynch described as “an independent community based coalition” of families and citizens that support Chandler-Newberger’s remaining as a recreation center.
Speaking at the Seventh Ward meeting on June 16, Ms. Vehovsky said the group had obtained over 500 signatures on a petition supporting C-N and had the support of all PTAs in the school district. The group has been contacting aldermen and the Mayor, and they have been noticed.
“I asked that [the Chandler-Newberger issue] be put on the agenda,” said Alderman Jane Grover, in whose Seventh Ward the facility sits. She wants the air cleared and rumors addressed and put to rest.
Mr. Bobkewicz, also at the Seventh Ward meeting, described Chandler-Newberger as “least connected to the City’s mission” of Evanston’s recreation centers. “Should we be in the business of recreation?” he added
Ms. Lynch would answer with a resounding, “yes.” She described a distinct lack of available facilities, particularly indoor facilities. Only Robert Crown, which is about to be replaced, and Fleetwood-Jourdain would remain if Chandler-Newberger were to close, she said. The Levy Center is reserved most times for senior activities.
The reason Chandler-Newberger sits on the City Manager’s chopping block is unclear, perhaps leading to the proliferation of rumors that has emerged recently.
The City’s December 31, 2011 deadline for the Peter Jans golf course to pay its water bill or potentially lose its lease only added depth and creativity to the rumor mill. Recently revealed discussions with Northwestern about using Peter Jans as a practice site for the golf team fueled speculation of “closed door” meetings.
Former Seventh Ward aldermanic candidate Kevin O’Connor, at citizen comment on June 13, accused the City of plotting to sell the golf course and C-N to Northwestern University. Former First Ward Alderman Art Newman, at the Seventh Ward meeting, openly speculated that the City sought to sell C-N to Evanston Hospital. Other unsubstantiated speculated uses have included a miniature golf course and the Federally Qualified Health Clinic that has yet to find a permanent home.
A lack of annual cost to the City also contributed to the rumors. According to numbers obtained by Ms. Lynch, C-N covers 93 percent of its costs by collecting recreation fees from users. The City’s subsidy amounts to only about $62,000, she said. Mr. Newman said that he understood the total savings to the City would be “about $100,000” if C-N closed.
Selling the Center could provide a short term financial boost, speculated Ms. Lynch, but “we’re never going to get this space back,” she said. Selling land is “a short term budget fix that will have long term consequences.”
At the Seventh Ward meeting, Mr. Bobkewicz addressed rumors of an impending sale of the property with a terse, “It’s not for sale.” He evaded the question of whether he had spoken with representatives of Evanston Hospital about the land.
Grouping Chandler-Newberger discussions together with the branch library closure and suggestions that the Ecology Center might be shuttered, Ms. Lynch said, “I find it interesting that the City manager wants to close facilities [that cater to] families.” His actions, she said, show “a lack of understanding of how important these amenities are for Evanston’s families.”