The City of Evanston’s agreement to sell water wholesale to Morton Grove and Niles requires a water-pumping station at the edge of Evanston to get water out to those communities. The pumping station will be built in the coming months at 2525 Church St., the former site of Shore School on land owned by the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago. The location has stirred confusion, outrage, resentment, and misconceptions among some members of the community.

The Evanston Side

The location of the station may also have become tied up in the ongoing litigation between the Village of Skokie and the City Evanston over the price Evanston charges Skokie for water delivered to that community. A preferred location for the station – on the Skokie side of the  North Shore Channel at McCormick Boulevard and Church Street – was rejected when Skokie residents rose up in opposition, said Dave Stoneback, the City’s Director of Public Works.

Mr. Stoneback told the RoundTable the Church Street corridor is the only place to put a pumping station, because, Church Street has the City’s only 36-inch water main. The City studied the possibility of supplying Morton Grove and Niles using a 24-inch main, but the impact on Evanston residents, in lower water pressure and other diminished service, would be too great, he said. The station has to be along Church Street, either on the Skokie side or the Evanston side.

The matter has created further controversy because it has become tied up with the plans of Fifth Ward Alderman Robin Rue Simmons to bring a water park, a “splash pad,” to the area. There is no current funding or concrete plan for the water park. The 2525 Church St. site, where the pumping station is to be built, has also been suggested as a site for the water park. Morton Grove and Niles will pay for the pumping station and the building that will house it. The structure will provide needed infrastructure and the studded-in piping for restroom facilities, as part of the station construction.

Lack of Notice

Residents rose up in opposition to the plans at the Feb. 26 City Council meeting and again at the Feb. 28 Design and Project Review (DAPR) meeting. Many complained about lack of transparency and public notice.

Verzell James said, “The City strives to promote transparency and public notice,” but was not transparent here. He called for a halt to all pumping station progress until “independent impact studies” showing “the effect of the impact of the pumping station” could be conducted.

Several others criticized the lack of notice. One resident said she did not receive notice until three weeks prior to the meeting. Another said notice at a ward meeting was not sufficient. “A ward meeting is not public notice,” said Carolyn Murray at the Feb. 28 meeting.

Resident Glenn Mackey said nearby residents should get “the same consideration as others,” including a study in the “primary impact area of this study.” He also decried the insufficiency of public notice, saying the project risked damage to health and environment “without public notice and a vote.”

Still, said Mr. Mackey, the station’s impact is not known. He said noise is a primary concern,  and that inaudible vibrations can have an unknown impact – unless fully studied in an independent area impact study.

Mr. Mackey told the RoundTable that Ald. Rue Simmons arranged a special meeting for his block club with the representatives from the Morton Grove-Niles Water Commission to discuss the project. Just after the Feb. 28 DAPR meeting, the City scheduled a tour of an existing water pumping station in northwest Evanston for March 8, affording a chance for residents to see a similar station in operation.

Water-Park Splash-Back 

The size and location of the new pumping station will be roughly similar to the current Shore School structure. The new building will be about 24 feet tall, but pushed closer to the canal, according to plans submitted to DAPR. The eastern edge of the building will be about 134 feet from the western curb of McDaniel Avenue. There are no homes on the west side of McDaniel, Avenue north of Church Street, but single-family homes line the east side of the street.

It is not the station alone, but the proposed soccer fields, splash pad, and improvements to and expansion of Beck Park, that appear to concern neighbors. Beck Park extends south of Emerson Street along the canal, but is interrupted north of Church Street by the Shore School facility. The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District owns all the real estate, but the City recently entered into a long-term lease for the Shore School tract – provided the City demolishes the existing building.

Visioning exercises show soccer fields and a splash pad north of Church Street, but Ald. Rue Simmons said all such plans are completely undeveloped. “There is no funding,” she said. Any improvements north of Church Street will be the subject of extensive community input, meetings, and planning, she said.

Dan Stein of the Parks and Recreation Board, who attended the Feb. 26 meeting on a separate issue regarding the Robert Crown project, rose to support the project – and a future splash pad. “We are always worried about how we are going to get more with less,” he said. Shared infrastructure with the pumping station is one such way, he said.

 The rowdy crowd shouted him down, with one resident yelling, “Put it in your neighborhood.”

 “I’ll take one in my neighborhood,” said Mr. Stein, somewhat drowned out by shouts of “power to the people,” a phrase heard from the crowd repeatedly over the course of the evening.

 “We’ve never asked for soccer fields,” said David Dixon, who said he lives about two blocks east of the pumping-station location. “We have problems with smell and stuff already,” he said earlier, referencing the waste transfer station a few blocks east. He also criticized the plan to put a restroom facility at the new station building. “We already have people pissing in the trees,” he said.

 Mr. Dixon then threatened a class action lawsuit.

Overall, there seemed a disconnect between the reality of the proposed pumping station and the perception of it and about the aspirational, but not planned, splash pad and soccer field, by the public. For now, the station will go forward, but the controversy shows no signs of going away.

 “This would never happen in Northwest Evanston,” Mr. Mackey told the RoundTable.