Source: City of Evanston

City Engineer and Engineering and Capital Planning Bureau Chief for the City Lara Biggs described the City’s capital improvement needs at a special City Council meeting on Oct. 26.

Information in the City’s FY’20 budget document describes the City’s capital improvement plan (CIP) as “a multi-year plan for capital expenditures, regardless of possible funds or funding sources.” Capital purchases that benefit the City as a whole are budgeted through the capital improvement fund (CIP), while projects special to one area, function or fund – such as water treatment – are paid from that specific source or fund.

Ms. Biggs identified capital improvement projects totaling $65.5 million for streets, transportation, parks, water treatment and City facilities, including the Library and the new Robert Crown Center.

The plan is to fund the projects over the next three years through a combination of loans, grants, City funds and bond issues. 

Several projects, such as upgrading the labs, purchasing equipment and replacing mains at the water treatment facility are fairly straightforward, Ms. Biggs said.

Other needed projects – playing “catch-up,” in parks and facilities – have an undetermined trajectory, she said.

Whether the City Council will decide to continue extensive repairs to the Civic Center or ultimately sell or demolish it is still uncertain, as are the extension of Beck Park (Church Street at McDaniel Avenue) and the future of the dog park.

The anticipated funding sources for capital projects in FY’20 are General Obligation Bonds, $10.0 million; Water Fund, $14.5 million; Sewer Fund, $1.4 million; Parking Fund, $1.6 million; Illinois Environmental Protection Agency Loans, $19.8 million; Motor Fuel Tax Funds, $1.5 million; Federal Grants (including Community Development Block Grants) $9.7 million; TIF (Tax-increment financing) Funds $0.4 million; and Other Funds (including special assessments and fundraising) $3.8 million.

Continued reliance on debt as a funding-source for capital projects remains problematic, Ms. Biggs said. In recent years, the City has funded about $3 million of capital projects from the General Fund, the City’s main operating fund. Nine million dollars is barely one-seventh of the identified $65 million needs.

Mayor Stephen Hagerty said the City has historically “borrowed” about $10 million dollars a year for capital projects – generally through issuing general obligation (GO) bonds.

 Street Projects

The Central Street Bridge project has been delayed because the City has not yet obtained from the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District the slice of land required for the new bridge. Construction is slated to begin next July, with $743,000 slated for next year, and there is a plan to issue $1.1 million in general obligation (GO) bonds in 2021.

The Ridge Avenue Signal Study, involving improvements and changes in the traffic signals along Ridge Avenue from Davis Street south to but not including Howard Street.

Phase I planning will begin next year, with construction in 2022-23. GO bonds in the amount of $700,000 will fund most of the cost. Another $500,000 in GO bonds will help fund the safety improvements recommended for the Oakton Street corridor in 2021-22.

Park Projects

Improvements to Beck Park, Harbert Park and a dog park are all somewhat “uncertain,” Ms. Biggs said. Beck Park may be expanded, and, at one point, Fifth Ward Alderman Robin Rue Simmons asked for a splash park there. Some neighbors objected, and the matter appears to have been dropped, at least temporarily.

Various sources of funding have been identified for repairs to Harbert Park, which stretches along the east side of the North Shore Channel from Dempster Street to Main Street, including a grant from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources – applied for but not yet received Ms. Biggs said. The playground and the basketball courts there will be revamped.

McCullough Park in northwest Evanston, east of Broadway Avenue between Livingston and Jenks streets, will receive upgrades in the amount of $825,000, funded by GO bonds. “There are safety issues there, and it’s one of our worst parks [in terms of repair],” Ms. Biggs said. GO bonds will similarly fund $75,000 of repairs to Larimer Park, Crain Street at Oak Avenue.

Alderman Tom Suffredin, 6th Ward, said flooding at Lovelace Park makes the fields unusable for several days after a rain.

“Are we going to fix it or not?” he asked.

“Right now there is about $200,000 in the budget, and there has been some feedback as to whether to fix the playground or fix part of the flooding,” Ms. Biggs said. “It’s a very large park and it would take more than a million dollars to fix.”

Ald. Suffredin asked “What’s the philosophy with parks? Do we fix all [of one park] or do Band-Aids?”

Ms. Biggs said, “When we work at smaller parks, which we consider neighborhood parks, we generally try to fix the whole thing.” With larger parks, she said, such as James Park, which are considered community parks, “we go after specific problems and try to fix them.”

She added, “It is unlikely we’re going to fix all the problems at Harbert Park. Every park that is located on the canal or west of the canal and on the canal has a flooding issue.”

“The clay soil issue – is that west of Ridge?” Ald. Suffredin asked. “My experience is that the residents are frustrated by the drainage at the parks. It’s not just the rainy days; it’s the 10 days afterward.

 “Do we have a plan to address that?” the alderman asked.

“We do not,” said the City Engineer. She added, “It’s frustrating when we have a problem with flooding.”

“So fixtures [equipment] are more of a priority than land?” he asked.

Ms. Biggs said the City applies for grants from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources but the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District does not help. “They’re happy to have the water percolate through the land before it goes into their canal,” she said.

Projects for City Facilities

Although $500,000 has been slated for a space-planning study for the Morton Civic Center, the scope of next year’s work has not yet been determined, Ms. Biggs said.

To update the 2012 ADA Transition plan will require $150,000, she said. Improvements to the Ecology Center are pegged at $485,000 for next year. These include crawl-space improvements, restroom rehab, parking-lot resurfacing and addressing “chimney issues.”

Improvement to the Service Center, pegged at $1.4 million, include yard resurfacing, tuck-pointing and HVAC upgrades.

“This building was built in 1986 – it’s four buildings put together,” Ms. Biggs said. The yard, she said, is not safe for vehicles, especially in the winter.

Asked whether service center operations could be transferred elsewhere, both Ms. Biggs and Interim City Manager Erika Storlie said they did not think that would be a good idea.

“It is where it is,” said Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, “and no one cares. A million dollars will extend the life of the building.”

Upgrades to the Water Treatment Plant include modernizing the existing labs to remediate deficiencies for about $1 million in 2020 and 2021 each; completing the water-storage replacement tank in early 2021, for about $14.2 million, funded through Illinois Environmental Protection Agency loans.  IEPA loans will also help fund the 36/42 intake replacement and a 54-inch heater cable at the water facility – about $25 million, Ms. Biggs said.

Little water comes through the 36/42 intake at present, Ms. Biggs said, so replacing this mile-long water main is essential. The heat cable, also budgeted for next year, keeps the water main open even during cold weather.

The Council will vote on this year’s capital improvement projects when it votes on the budget, expected at the Nov. 23 City Council meeting.

Mary Gavin is the founder of the Evanston RoundTable. After 23 years as its publisher and manager, she helped transition the RoundTable to nonprofit status in 2021. She continues to write, edit, mentor...