WILMETTE PARK DISTRICT
MINUTES OF THE SPECIAL MEETING OF THE
BOARD OF COMMISSIONERS OF THE WILMETTE PARK DISTRICT
HELD IN THE COUNCIL ROOM OF WILMETTE VILLAGE HALL
MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 26, 2011
Written notice of said meeting was given to the Commissioners and the Wilmette Life in accordance with the Wilmette Park District Code, Section 2103, and Section 2.02 of the Open Meetings Act.
President Brault called the meeting to order at 7:30 pm and stated the meeting is not being televised live tonight because of the school board meeting. However, the meeting is being recorded and will be available on the Park District’s web site tomorrow and replayed on Wilmette’s Channel 6.
PRESENT: President James Brault; Commissioners Gary Benz, James Crowley, Darrell Graham, John Olvany, Michael Murdock, and Shelley Shelly; Secretary/Director Stephen Wilson; Assistant Secretary Judy Ostrem
STAFF: Superintendents Bingham, Bowen, Eppelheimer, and Lambrecht; Communications Manager Donoghue
APPROVAL OF MINUTES:
Commissioner Graham moved and Commissioner Benz seconded a motion to approve the minutes of the September 12, 2011 Regular Board Meeting.
By a roll call vote, voting Yes – Commissioners Benz, Brault, Crowley, Graham, Olvany, Murdock, and Shelly; voting No -- None. Absent – None; Motion carried.
President Brault stated the Board last met on September 12, 2011 when input was received from residents was received on the revised plan for the potential ice surface at Thornwood Park. Since that meeting, additional input has been received via phone calls, letters and emails. Also at the meeting, the Board directed staff to further revise the plan that was submitted. As a result, Director Wilson along with Superintendents Bingham and Lambrecht combined that input and created a revised plan which will be discussed tonight. The revised plan was also made available on our web site, submitted to the local news publications, and sent in a letter to those residents within 250 feet of Thornwood Park directing them to our web site so they could view the plan which resulted from the additional input received. At tonight’s meeting the Board would like to talk further about the plan, ask for comments, discuss among the Board members and hopefully take a vote as to whether we should have a plan and what it would include. The next step would be to take it to the Village’s Zoning Board if the plan is approved at tonight’s meeting.
COMMUNICATIONS & CORRESPONDENCE:
President Brault acknowledged receipt of correspondence from the list shown below:
…. Thornwood Park: Meg Gambacorta Maris, Art Lutschaunig, Matthew Sitzer, Jay Blunk, Steve Carlson, Linda Zajac, Naomi Bayer, Barbara Murray, Diane Schaffner, Naom Bayer and Stuart Brandhandler, John and Peg Duros, Jan and Carl Peterson, Sharon Murray, Deanne Roggekamp, Amy Keller & Tony Dillon, Anne Wieboldt, Nan Scott, Andrea Anderson, Ellen Largay, Marshall Kay, Kevin Grant, Robert Stephens, Chris Bachman, Virginia Buerger, Susan Crist, Stuart Martin Berger, Sherri and Steve Ramsey, Jody and David, Franson, Richard Crosh, Bradley Reiff, Caryn Summer, Jeff Kupets, Joe and Helen Franz, John Dold, Lisa Finks, Virginia Buerger, Michelle Teal, Jeff Kost, Gina B. Kennedy, Mary Weildandt, Roxy Freed, Ted and Liz Drury, Kendall Carlson, Alex Aronov, Ann Harvey, Steve Balz, Brant and Meg Ahrens, Alison Borland, Gail Thomas, Yale Eisen and Jai Liriano, The Borushek Family, Robert Tanaka
…. Wilmette Harbor: B. Fallaw, Hugh Gaynor, Chris Bachman, Bob Stephens
Director Wilson stated that additional correspondence had been received over the weekend and will be included in the next Board meeting packet.
Gina Kennedy, 2136 Beechwood
Rich & Christine Crosh, 2136 Beechwood
Robert Shannon, 2136 Beechwood
Jeff & Jamie Kost, 2319 Thornwood
Colleen Knight, 1215 Colgate
Jody Franson, 2327 Kenilworth
Terri Cohn, 622 Kenilworth
Sherri Ramsey, 1233 Colgate
Roger Weller, 1223 Colgate
Lynn Nord, 1221 Princeton Pl.
Don Nord, 1221 Princeton Pl.
Caryn Summer, 2425 Kenilworth
Karen Tobey, 2401 Thornwood Avenue
Gary Schor, 2351 Thornwood Avenue
Lurene Thomas, 2228 Elmwood
Steve Ducommun, 2301 Thornwood
Kara McAlister, 2347 Thornwood
Mac Zelazny, 2347 Thornwood
Charles and Mary Shea, 935 Michigan Avenue
Susan Crist, 1216 Colgate Street
Irma Nagele, 1231 Dartmouth
Helen Franz, 2415 Thornwood
Diane Schaffner, 2413 Thornwood
Bobby Largay, 1217 Dartmouth
Jeff & Sharon Hidaka, 1229 Colgate
RECOGNITION OF VISITORS
President Brault asked those who wished to speak to come forward and present their comments to the Board. He reminded everyone that although there may be differences of opinion, please hold their comments until they are standing at the podium and to also provide their names and addresses.
Mac Zelazny, 2347 Thornwood stated he thinks the proposed ice rink is a great idea. He plays hockey and the location is perfect for himself and his friends who also enjoy skating.
Kara McAlister, 2347 Thornwood stated her husband is Dan Zelazny and they would like to have the Board’s support on the ice rink. The new proposal looks excellent with some good compromises having been made. She knows there are concerns about noise but in the summer there is also noise coming from the batting cage and other activities which she enjoys. In the wintertime it is freezing cold and the landscape is all white or brown and there is nobody using the park. As a result, having this extra space to enjoy outdoor recreation during the winter would be great and would give a lot of people the chance to play pond hockey. She likes the idea of the goals and keeping everyone safe. There are also a lot of people she knows who are in favor of the proposal and have sent emails but unfortunately they were unable to attend tonight. Also, currently there are giant street lights that are much closer to the houses when compared to the location of the temporary lights which would be focused on the rink.
At this point in the meeting, Director Wilson highlighted the changes in the plan for further clarification and stated that from the original proposal the dimensions were reduced by 20 feet in length, from 180 to 160 feet. Originally the lights were to be turned off at 10 pm as is done at our other locations but the proposal now is to close at 8 pm on Sunday through Thursday and at 9 pm on Friday through Saturday. The original proposal also included a hockey-only ice surface and that has been revised to include recreational skating as well. The lights originally were to have permanent structures with a concrete basis but that has changed to temporary lighting. Regarding the boards, they were originally four feet high with safety netting above them. However, when the suggestion was made to use pond hockey goals instead of regular goals, staff felt that would alleviate the need for the safety netting. The original proposal did not include seating but we are now proposing picnic tables at this location as we have done at other locations. There generally are not any bathrooms at our other facilities during the winter but the proposal now includes leaving the porta-potties that were there during the summer. In terms of drainage, staff had not originally taken any steps as far as adding additional capacity for drainage but that issue will be addressed as best we can.
President Brault asked those in the audience who wished to speak that when asking questions of the Board, those will not be answered during the discussion portion but attempts will be made to answer them when the Board deliberates. He also asked that everyone limits their comments to three minutes each.
Irma Nagele, 1231 Dartmouth stated that there are 15 houses that are directly across from where the proposed bright lights and noises would be. She loves hockey and every bit of the park. She does want the Park District to install a rink but asked that it be placed where it previously had been located years ago. She then presented a photograph which indicated the exact location of the previous ice rink. She feels that parking would be a big issue on Thornwood Avenue since that street is already very narrow. The only parking is on Dartmouth but that would mean having to trek all the way over the park with their skates on. She feels where the rink was located before would be the ideal place to put the rink but was told it was too narrow and that it is now a park with flowers. She thinks it’s a good idea to open the rink for hockey players and recreational skaters. Her main complaint is that they have a beautiful free space in the winter with snowmen and cross country skiing but we’re limiting the park more and more – it’s no longer a park but a bunch a “little things” going on. If the rink was placed on the other side of the park it wouldn’t bother anyone and there is already a porta-potty there. Her big concern with the proposed location is that it would diminish the amount of park space and the lighting and the noise would affect the houses whereas if located in that other area the neighbors wouldn’t hear the noise and the lights wouldn’t bother them either. The District could also transplant some trees.
Sherri Ramsey, 1233 Colgate stated she is not against the idea of an ice rink – it’s a great idea. However, she doesn’t think that the Board has provided enough after school hours for recreational skating. The hours from 8 am until noon on Monday through Thursday would adversely affect school children since school is not dismissed until 3 pm. She understands that hockey is prohibited in other parks but doesn’t know why. She asked why the Board can’t make recreational skating “legal” for sometime during the week such as possibly three hours, two times a week. She commends the Board for changing the lights from permanent to temporary but would have liked to see the rink a little smaller so that there would be more open space. She thinks that the people to whom she has spoken to had been unaware and were later upset that there was not more skate time vs. hockey time which doesn’t seem right and doesn’t foster a close-knit community such as Thornwood Park has.
Jody Franson, 2327 Kenilworth stated she is of the same opinion as Sherri Ramsey in that recreational skating is just as important as hockey in our community and that is one of the areas she was hoping she could talk about. But what she really feels strongly about is that this concept be done on a trial basis at another location to see how popular hockey playing will be since hockey has never been permitted at the outdoor rinks before. At this point, there are residents who say they would like hockey and she agrees it would be a great opportunity to allow hockey at Gillson or Mallinckrodt but is not sure if there is discussion on reopening West Park. Also, safety becomes a factor if there are any injuries. It seems to her that it would be in everyone’s best interest to see if a trial occurs at the existing rinks first and she doesn’t understand why it is such a big rush to do so this winter. In regard to recreational skating vs. hockey prime time hours, she does feel that if the rink happens, both groups should have an equal amount of time.
Caryn Summer, 2425 Kenilworth, stated that at the September 12th Park Board meeting, she asked that a vote be postponed until there was time to fully consider the impact that this proposal will have on the park and the neighborhood. She appreciates that the Board postponed the vote for two weeks; however, during that time there was no attempt to work with the community to reach a comprise solution. In addition, the revisions do not adequately take into account comments from concerned neighbors expressed in emails, letters and at the September 12th meeting. She also has concerns about lights and scale which represents an 11.1% reduction in the size. However, the proposal still constitutes a large scale development in the park and the scale of this proposal and the presence of lights where none existed before and the nighttime use affected by the lights continues to be a major change in the use of the park and will be a detriment to the character of the neighborhood. She strongly feels that it’s completely out of scale with our neighborhood. In a phone call she had with Director Wilson about locating the rink at Howard Park where lights, bathrooms and other utilities exist, she was told Howard was not a good choice and he went on to say that the field at the ice rink at Gillson was a “mud pit” in large part due to damage from the ice. If Howard Park is off the table due to the damage that could occur from the ice and if Gillson was such a mud pit that they had to close the field, why is it okay for Thornwood to receive the same damage. Now that the tot lot has expanded into the open space, it is the only space left for unstructured recreation. With regard to repair, there would likely be damage caused by the ice and Gillson was resodded after only four years of use. With regard to drainage she is concerned that as of this morning the Park District still doesn’t know how they intend to drain the ice rink area. Either solution would require a significant amount of site work and the estimates indicated it would cost $17,000 for drainage.
Robert Shannon, 2136 Beechwood Avenue stated that in regard to the time for the public to speak there has been a change to the Open Meetings Act in that the time to speak at a public meeting is actually under three minutes but he thinks under the circumstances in this case that the time be lengthened to five minutes. Putting aside the merits of the ice rink, this issue has the potential of having significant impact on those residents who live near the park and there is a strong possibility that this ice rink will become a destination with people coming from all over. He asked if these rules would really be effective if the rink is unsupervised. There is also the question of possible water problems. He asked what analyses have been done to deal with drainage since it would involve draining much of Thornwood Park into the storm sewer which is of great concern to him.
Helen Franz, 2415 Thornwood stated she is not against the ice hockey rink and thought it was nice the Board made some compromises for hockey and skating but her number one issue is that she hopes whatever is done in regard to drainage does not result in the flooding of her basement. The Village has indicated that the best way to get rid of ice is the natural way. She reiterated that she wants a guarantee that the ice rink is not going to cause her home to flood. Secondly she doesn’t want to see a mud pit like was left in Howard Park and wants to see green grass. She also doesn’t want to look at an ugly electrical box and asked that there be green shrubbery in the park all year round.
Gina Kennedy, 2136 Beechwood expressed her deep concern with the process that the Board has followed in consideration of the proposed ice rink. She understands that there has been a lot of support of this project by the hockey families and that the people who live near the park have reservations. She doesn’t live next to the park and does not have hockey players in her family. However, she does have an interest in the Board’s process since like all homeowners in the Village her tax dollars support the Park District and its activities. She feels that those who have had more of a personal interest in the proposed ice rink deserve to be part of the decision-making process. Apparently, the Park District is considering deferring some needed maintenance work on its existing facilities and also considering issuing bonds for other projects. This work will be in addition to the $29 million in bonds that the Park District has outstanding. She asked that if the Park District does not currently have sufficient funds to maintain facilities that they already own, is that a prudent use of our resources to build new, unprecedented facilities. The letter which was mailed to the neighbors and the meeting minutes going back a few months offered few details on costs. That letter was also never posted on the web site for other residents to view. Regardless of whether the Board’s actions are violations of the Open Meetings Act or not, the disregard of public opinion for “the people of the checkbook” does not meet the standards of openness, transparency and inclusiveness that people expect from our elected offices. She asked that the Board open up this process, conduct further public proceedings on a normal timetable and publish a written description of the proposal including projected costs on the web site.
Brad Reiff, 2425 Kenilworth stated he was present at the September 12 meeting where it was suggested that the Park District install the rink on a trial basis for this winter to see how it works. He thinks it’s a good idea and makes sense although it more makes sense at West Park where there are already lights and a rink but according to the minutes the reason that the rink wasn’t chosen was because it wasn’t used enough. However, that doesn’t seem like a valid test. The rink at West Park was for recreational skating as are rinks at Mallinckrodt and Gillson. There was no test of whether there would be demand for West Park if it was a hockey-only rink. At West Park, there wouldn’t be a need to make such a large investment like there would be at Thornwood. There are families who do want to have skating at Thornwood and they live nearby. He hasn’t seen any studies but thinks that families who live near West Park would also use that rink. The other consideration is that he assumes the Board wants this plan to be a viable hockey venue. If that’s the case, then there is going to be a need for bathrooms, a warming house, and maybe a way to chill the fields so it can be used for a longer period of time. Thornwood as a park is already being stressed enough. When thinking in the long-term, the Board needs to come up with something that really works. It is the Board’s job to look at West Park to conduct a one-year test and then go from there.
Lynn Nord, 1221 Princeton stated she lives one block west of Thornwood Park and for over 30 years her children skated on this ice rink which was located next to the tennis courts at one time. She then provided a short history of what happened to that ice rink. In addition, the building that was there was so heavily vandalized that the Park District about 20 years ago chose to tear down the building because they couldn’t afford the constant maintenance and abuse that came as a result of not only the hockey or skating but just by being located at the park. Also, the porta-potties were tipped over all of the time and she thinks that could happen again. She also has questions about the process by which the Board informed the residents about the proposal for the park. Although she lives across the street from the park, she did not receive a letter about the proposal. She asked why the Park District did not inform a wider range of residents and why was a sign not posted with the proposal. She did see the proposed changes on the web site and agrees with some of the more elaborate recommendations of the use of the park but there is nothing in there that has cost-related information with this proposed rink and those need to be provided to the residents.
Roger Weller, 1223 Colgate thanked the Board for allowing the residents to be involved in this process. On a “macro” level, he stated we need to frame up what we are using to judge the criteria in this case. For example, the tally sheet that was posted indicates those “opposed”, “in favor of” or “other”. However, he wants to share with the Board a more qualitative study that he did of residents within 250 feet of the park and there are several if not a majority of names listed as “other” who according to their responses are really against the rink as proposed. It’s important to note that “other” does not mean neutral. The “others” may well be “opposed” but may also just want to have questions answered or want more information He believes the revised proposal answers some questions but the new proposal as it stands now is vague on some important points such as the flooding issue. There needs to be a plan on the steps to be taken and the Board needs to communicate that process before the “others” can make a judgment on the issue. Also, items that that are more specific in nature were not reflective of the responses which he thinks the survey indicates. Comments from previous meetings regarding usage indicate it was predominantly overwhelming for hockey use and included a very limited acknowledgement in terms of the hours and which hours are chosen for open skating. If it’s for the greater enjoyment of most people, it needs to at least be shared equal access and it doesn’t seem like that’s what has come out in the results. This issue needs to be revisited such as what is the criteria for judging a rink on a trial basis. He asked if the Board had any thoughts on how to share what would be a success. It’s really about making sure the Board is gathering a true sense of what people’s opinions are on the proposed rink. Some of the areas he feels are too vague include the general infrastructure of the rink including exposed or permanent electrical panels or boxes, the general costs involved with the new changes, the flooding problem, and the porta-potty situation.
Diane Schaffner, 2413 Thornwood stated she was at the meeting to ask the Board to not proceed with the plans for the ice rink. In the face of logic and prevailing sentiment the right thing to do is to take a breath, re-examine the other options, and to not try out a rink this year. However, if this does continue to move forward, she wants to make it very clear she has nothing against hockey or those who play hockey. In fact, her husband and sons like to play pond hockey. If the rink does proceed, she wants to ensure that it is for pond hockey and that it is not a gigantic rink where teenagers would drive and take it over. This would also mean that there should not be any boards of any kind but instead install small curbs. This would also be reasonable in keeping the puck in play but would still allow a style of play that would limit aggressive behavior. Lastly, she is strongly opposed to the lights. The idea of giving the rink a try this year seems like a reasonable suggestion but she asked that the Board save the expense and the hassle with the zoning and the neighbors by giving it a try without the lights. This would provide the Board with an opportunity to examine the drainage and the noise. She feels that the rink is situated where she doesn’t think there would be an increased danger.
Lurene Thomas, 2228 Elmwood stated she still opposes the rink even as modified because the noise and the lights will be bothersome and will change the character of the park. Many constituents prefer to have open and quiet space. That space is also used in the wintertime although not a lot except for snowball fights, people walking, etc. She is also concerned about safety but it’s interesting that the Park District on its own web site that hockey is not allowed at the other rinks for safety reasons. She wonders how there are concerns for safety at other parks but for some reason not at Thornwood. She is also concerned about the light poles and if they are being moved what will be left such as a hole in which kids will fall into. As previously stated, there will be a few children who are able to walk to the park but the vast majority will still have to drive. So since they would have to drive to Thornwood, why can’t they then drive to someplace else as well. There has been nothing stated about costs on the web site or anything in the newspapers. Director Wilson provided some costs earlier today and he said it would be about $17,000 for the electrical and water and $15,000 per year for setting up and taking down the poles, dasher boards, etc. Of that $32,000 total, there is no mention of anything at all about drainage which would be a very significant cost. If the Park District can do something with drainage and it’s cost effective, we haven’t heard anything about that or what the possible cost would be. She thinks that before the Board can vote, the issue of costs needs to be figured out and drainage studies conducted before considering using or “trashing” Thornwood Park. At the same time this is being proposed, there was an article in the newspapers which indicates that the Board is considering floating a bond for $200,000 to $250,000. As a taxpayer she wonders if it’s a good idea to do this rink and spend the money on the proposed rink in these economic times.
Gary Schotz, 2351 Thornwood stated he appreciates the Board taking comments from the neighbors and they have done a decent job. He wishes there was more time for hockey usage during after school hours and maybe have additional hours augmented during the winter break. He is concerned about the lights but not so much about the brightness of them even though his house is 80 feet from the park. It also doesn’t matter how many parking spots are on Thornwood since all the kids will be picked up at his house just because of where his house is located. He thinks that 8 pm is too late because at 8 pm it just won’t suddenly become quiet. The kids will be milling about afterwards and will continue to make noise for another 20-30 minutes while parents are picking them up and yelling at them. His younger children go to bed at 8 pm so he would prefer the rink closes at 7 or 7:30 pm during the week. He thinks that a test run of the rink could be done and a test run with no lights would be good call. If there are lights, he would like them to be off at 7 or 7:30 pm. He doesn’t have a problem with 9 pm on the weekends and during District 39’s winter break.
Steve Ducommun, 2301 Thornwood stated he agrees with the comments made by his neighbors. Last time he spoke about his drainage concerns and would like to see a plan on how much water there would be and where it would be going. He agrees we don’t want to have our basements flooded. He thinks the idea of a hockey-only rink might make sense but again in a neighborhood type of park such as Thornwood it could be tough. He suggested maybe doing hockey-only at West Park. From a cost perspective, he thinks the infrastructure is already there. He looked at the Park District’s previous meeting minutes and was impressed with the thoughtfulness and conservative approach taken to expenditures. It sounds to him that the costs could be approaching the same type of cost that the proposed cell tower had. On February 28 a discussion was held about capital improvement projects and which ones needed to be deferred or remain in for this year. He would like to see what this proposal is going to cost us over what was already planned. On August 23 there was an email from President Brault to Director Wilson indicating an approximate amount of $40,000 for Thornwood. Again, he would like to see if this is a planned or unplanned expenditure and what the real numbers will be although he understands that some costs won’t be known until some engineering studies, especially on draining, have been done. There were also many comments about revenue enhancements such as beverage stands at the lakefront. He wondered that if the Park District was going to do that, maybe they should spend more time on spending less. He also asked why there hadn’t been an official survey of residents taken on the issue and the only survey he has seen was in The Beacon which indicated that out of 60 responses, 41% said spend the money elsewhere, 37% said it should be placed at Thornwood, and 16% basically supported the plan. This is not a scientific study but it does indicate the importance of a cost/benefit analysis which can then be used to determine what kind of money the Board is spending.
Rich Crosh, 2339 Thornwood thanked the Board for the amended proposal which is great and which has come a long way. He is against the lights and is apprehensive about the walls because he knows neighbors in the area have built rinks with walls in the past and they can be very noisy which concerns him, especially at night. He has been in the neighborhood long enough to remember seeing children at the previous skate rink when there were no walls and there weren’t any issues. He is just saying that hockey is possible without walls and it wouldn’t be nearly as noisy. He noted that the Board in their deliberations also mentioned these same points such as noise and traffic. He also thanked the Board for building a skateboard park which he thinks was a great accomplishment. He spends a lot of time shuffling his kids around to other skateboard parks and believes the same thing will happen at Thornwood, especially if there were lights. He then suggested toning down the plan a little.
Christine Crosh, 2339 Thornwood thanked the Board for serving the community. She started by reading the rest of Caryn Summer’s summary as follows: Regardless of which approach is the best Caryn’s concern is that the Board will vote on this proposal and we still don’t know exactly what will happen with all the water and how much it will cost. The Board indicated the cost of the work involved to provide adequate drainage could be minimized by the simple process of trenching and installing gravel. But she respectively and professionally disagrees. Most would agree that Thornwood is a neighborhood park and essentially the Park District’s revised proposal takes away open space and turns it over to specific user groups all at a cost which is yet undetermined. A large ice rink primarily for hockey is inconsistent with the neighborhood and takes away the enjoyment of open space. It is not a barren wasteland in the winter as some have suggested, but it could be in the spring if the park is damaged.
Christine Crosh then continued with her comments as follows: About four years ago, the residents along Thornwood Avenue asked the Village to remove the street light at 2347 Thornwood although it was actually Commonwealth Edison’s light. Once the lights were removed, they have been trying to keep the area quiet and peaceful. If anyone would like to see the signatures just let her know. In summary, they would like to keep the light off the street to keep it dark. In summary, she is opposed to the rink but would love to see it at West Park.
Colleen Knight, 1215 Colgate stated she wanted to go on record as being opposed to the rink for a lot of reasons including those the Board has already heard several times. She just wanted to ask why the Board would go to all this expense to reinvent the wheel at Thornwood when everything is in place at West Park. If we really need a hockey rink, then make it at West Park. If the skaters didn’t use the rink for figure skating, maybe they will use it for hockey and hockey parents are used to driving their children around.
Susan Crist, 1216 Colgate stated she has already sent emails to the Park District regarding her stance on the issue but had two other points to address. Her biggest concern is safety. She is a primary school teacher and is very aware of what happens on the playground, even a supervised one. Every year they start letting the children in first through third grades play soccer and touch football but because the third graders are bigger than the first graders, they run them over and don’t pass the ball to them. She thought the question asked on September 12 about what would happen on the rink when there is a 15-year-old with pads on skating with a 7-year-old was a good one. Because of her experience, she knows what is going to happen. It really isn’t an open hockey ice surface – it’s really for older kids. And if you have daughters trying out hockey with no pads and not really knowing the game, it could be a bad experience and she wouldn’t put her daughter out there. It is just not safe. She also wonders if the Park District’s insurance company knows that there will be an unsupervised ice rink which is a huge issue. She does appreciate everything that everyone’s done to accommodate the neighbors. The times allowed for recreational skating for children age 3 or 4 from 8 am until noon are not really valid even though that looks great on paper – it’s just not practical. As a taxpayer, she wonders if this is really a good use of our tax dollars.
Jeff Kost, 2319 Thornwood has concerns about the process the Park District and the Board followed in order to rush this proposal through the system. At the last meeting, the Board suggested that those who opposed this proposal would oppose everything. However, we would support a fair and open process in which our elected officials don’t rush to judgment by short circuiting the due diligence in important areas. This hastily scheduled special meeting is self-evidence of the Board’s rush to push through this project. Some areas of concern relate to the following: Where are the studies and analyses of what the impact will be on the park with all of the noise from hockey pucks and skaters – will it travel through the neighborhood in the dead of winter. In addition, where is the analysis of what type of lighting is appropriate in this residential area and where is the analysis of safety issues such as helmets and if the Park District has equipment insurance. We also need an analysis of drainage issues and will this additional volume of water flood our homes. What is the Village’s position on this issue and would the Village allow additional water in the sewers. There are also concerns about the condition of the grass. Consideration should also be given to the demographics of who will actually be playing hockey. What about players from other villages and what priority would they get over residents. He feels this process is being driven by Board members who allege that they are responding to resident requests. In fact, a recent Freedom of Information Request indicated only one letter was received prior to the Board’s discussion of a hockey rink at Thornwood. That same request resulted in a flurry of emails that indicated the Park District hastily obtained quotes from vendors prior to the September meeting. Also revealed in an email dated August 24 from Commissioner Benz was his difficulty with this special expenditure in that it seemed like there was a rush to get it to zoning and they were unbudgeted expenses. The email also indicated that Commissioner Benz felt there were better uses of funds for this fiscal year and that there had not been any outreach for this project at all. Mr. Kost added that if the Board does it due diligence and follows a proper process, people would understand that the elected officials have done their job based on all the relevant facts and considerations, not just the wants from a few.
Eric Tobey, 2401 Thornwood stated he lives directly across from the park which would put him in the closest proximity to the rink. He thanked the Board for the process and that they have been provided with a chance to discuss the proposal with the Board. He also wanted to recognize his neighbors since everyone here is from Wilmette and they have rallied to talk to each other as community members. Some people have spoken about their memories of playing hockey but there is also the need to preserve the park as an open space. Being able to look out the window and see green space makes one feel very fortunate and that’s what brought a lot of people here tonight. He loves hockey but he can’t support significant changes to the park which is a gift to all residents of Wilmette. The park is not a pond and it has been there for years for everyone to use year-round. The nice thing about pond hockey is that the pond is usually large enough so that four or five games can be going on. However, there would not be enough room for a rink this size so rushing in and overlooking all these other issues would be a tragedy. The issues include the costs involved, the drainage and the timing which all need to be addressed. Your employees will have to go out there to clean up the ice and they will be pulling equipment across the park and causing damage. He wants the rink to be put in at West Park and stated we need to slow this process down.
The public comment portion of the meeting was closed and the Board began to discuss the proposed Thornwood Park ice surface.
Commissioner Murdock stated he felt it would be helpful to identify the questions asked tonight and address them before the commissioners begin making their general comments. He stated there are four major issues and some other concerns that were discussed tonight with the first issue being the cost of the project. There were also questions about drainage and uncertainty about what the Village would allow and what the Park District might do. Questions about safety and liability issues were also brought up as was the notification process versus what we were actually required to do.
President Brault stated that in terms of the process, the first step was to follow what the Village ordinance requires in that notices are to be sent to residents who live within 250 feet of the edge of the park. As a result, we notified the Village who supplied us with the labels. However, it was brought to our attention that some neighbors did not receive the letter and subsequently the additional letters were then mailed. In addition to the letters, we also notified The Beacon, Trib Local, Patch.com and the Wilmette Life of the proposal and it has been carried in a number of other papers as well as on our web site. The revised proposal was also published on our web site. After the last Board meeting, another letter with the revised proposal was sent out to the neighbors directing them to the web site to view the revisions made. In addition, we also sent emails to those residents who had provided their email addresses to let them know about tonight’s meeting.
Discussions on the proposed ice surface actually began in January 2011 and had been considered in a number of different committee meetings and discussed at the Board level a number of times. The overall discussion has been taking place over the course of the last year at the different levels of the District and we have tried to gather public comment from a variety of directions.
In terms of scheduling tonight’s meeting just two weeks in advance and to the extent the Board moves forward with a proposal tonight, the next step would be to take the proposal to the November 2, 2011 Zoning Board meeting for which we are preliminarily on the docket. If the Zoning Board approves it, then the proposal goes to the Village Board. The specific variance we are requesting would be for the lights. The rink itself is considered a consistent use of the park and therefore we would not be seeking a zoning variance for that – only for the lights.
Commissioner Murdock clarified that the Park District would not be seeking a variance on the lights nor would he support a variance for the lights. However, for the record the Park District is actually seeking a special use for the lights.
President Brault stated again that in terms of the timing of having an ice surface this year we need to proceed with incorporating the improvements to allow this to happen and that is part of the reason why we are on this timeframe.
Commissioner Murdock added that we did talk about the ice rink at a number of the Parks & Recreation and Financial Planning Committee meetings but those are not televised. However, the proposal was updated on three or four separate occasions at the Board meetings which are televised so we did try to seek input. The second issue is that if and when this does go to Zoning, there is a legal requirement for notification but there was no legal requirement for notification for the prior Board meeting or tonight’s meeting. We did want to get the word out and we did want to receive input and that’s why we sent out letters to the neighboring property owners. He has talked to people on both sides of the issue and some were concerned the notices went out right before Labor Day but we have had two meetings so far and if we do proceed there will certainly will be additional opportunities for input at the Zoning and Village Board meetings. In regard to the process, he thinks we have done more here than we typically do because we did want input from residents.
President Brault stated that cost of the proposal has been determined at the Committee and Board levels. It is anticipated that the cost to tap the water source and extend the electric will be about $17,000. A drainage system which is not connected to the sewer will take approximately three days for internal Park District labor to put in a catch basin underneath and also run an extension drain line to go to the north diamond of the baseball field. This will not be where the ice surface will be but it will help the current drainage problem that currently exists in right field off the north diamond. We also think if we put boards on either end of the rink the cost would be approximately $3,000 of internal staff time to create the boards at either end. In terms of the annual expense of the surface, a typical rink’s cost is about $10,000 to maintain it which generally includes both the water and staff time. This amount is also close to what is spent at Mallinckrodt although West Park may cost a bit more because of its larger surface. In addition, setting up the lights and taking them down would cost about $3,000 or more per year. Part of the reason why there hasn’t been a lot of discussion about the cost is because in the general scope of items the Park District considers this is not a significant expenditure.
Commissioner Olvany asked Superintendent Lambrecht about the three days of internal labor and if there were cost estimates for that work. President Brault also asked Superintendent Lambrecht to discuss what is currently envisioned for the drainage
Superintendent Lambrecht replied he has discussed this issue with Village engineers. He envisions running at least one lateral line through the length of the ice rink going down four feet, putting in fabric and gravel, at least one length of perforated pipe and then maybe adding another two drains for retention of the water. Because we are making a revision from what we usually do with hoses and flooding, the cost would be about $3,000.
Commissioner Graham asked if the drainage work would help in that area for the rest of the year. Superintendent Lambrecht replied that one low area could also tie into the new drain lines which could improve the field throughout the year. His plan would also be to take some of the waste top soil, install the drainage, and then put that on top. We also would not change the grading since it would just have surface drainage.
President Brault asked what happens when the ice starts to melt. Superintendent Lambrecht replied that maintenance of the ice rinks depends on the weather. Typically, if it is a normal winter, staff stops building the ice on February 1. If the weather stays cold, we go out and maintain it by putting water on the ice. Our experience is that once we stop the work, the ice starts to evaporate even if it is still cold outside. The reason why that area of Gillson Park needed to be resodded was that it was very heavily used by rugby, soccer games, camp programs and the 3rd of July celebration. In addition, this past winter was the longest season ever for ice which added to the damage done to that area of Gillson Park where we ended up having to cut it out and add sodding. So based on that, the surface being contemplated at Thornwood will not result in any flowing water.
In regard to insurance, Director Wilson stated the Park District belongs to PDRMA (Park District Risk Management Agency) which is a risk management pool that many park districts belong to. We consultant them about this topic and they indicated that 12 to 14 other parks districts who have outdoor ice hockey rinks do not warn against them and they did not increase their liability more than a playground would. They did indicate that there might increases in staffing and supervision.
President Brault stated it is anticipated that the lights will be completely temporary and when removed there will be no base remaining. They will be mounted in the ground and when the poles come out, the holes will be covered and planted over and will not be seen during the off-season.
Commissioner Olvany asked if there is just one toilet in place in Thornwood Park during the baseball season or if one is there all the time. Director Wilson replied there is only one toilet all year long and it will be the same one during the winter.
President Brault stated that in regard to the question of how we will determine if this was a success or failure was to provide the opportunity for the public to address the Board on whether to move forward for the next year. One of the options staff raised was to invite concerned residents to a Parks & Recreation Committee in the spring of 2012 which would provide an opportunity for them to talk about what the experiment was like for them and if there were ways to make it better. This would be an open meeting to the public.
Commissioner Crowley stated some people think that the rink would be hockey-only but it is also a rink that will have shared use. Director Wilson added there was a definite concern about increasing recreational skating in the hours after school. President Brault added that the concept was originally proposed as a hockey-only facility because the desire was to increase the offerings from the Park District. Currently hockey is not allowed at any of our rinks although we know people still do it and break the rules. The goal was to create a hockey rink that would not be in conflict with recreational skating which is why it was originally proposed and which has since evolved to promote safety in order to have both types of skaters at the same time. As part of the Board’s discussions, the West Park and Gillson Park locations were considered for a variety of reasons but the determination was made that Thornwood Park would be the best suited although no site is perfect The primary reason why West Park was not chosen was because of lack of usage.
Commissioner Brault added this is an evolving process and may not be the perfect answer but he believes that trying the rink for a season to see how it goes and then possibly doing something different based on the results is a good plan. The Board has tried to create a proposal that incorporates the desires of the folks who first promoted it to us and then take into consideration the neighbors. We will learn from this process and may decide to do it differently next year.
Commissioner Benz stated another issue was the perception that this item was not budgeted and that certain capital projects were postponed or pushed forward to create funds for this idea. However, he doesn’t believe that is the case but would like to have that explained. President Brault responded that the Park District’s capital budgeting process contains a five-year plan with most of the focus on the coming year. We try to budget for our larger capital expenditures that are for maintaining our facilities such as the new CRC parking a few years ago. The cost was over one million dollars and while not a very exciting it was definitely something that needed to be done. In addition, the chiller system at Centennial will need to be replaced which is another million dollar expenditure and the USGA Turf Advisor recommended we postpone the rebuilding of the 6th green this year until we conclude what we will do with the golf master plan. These are the kind of projects that most people do not focus on but the Board and staff pay very close attention. The capital budget is a work in progress that starts at the beginning of the year with an anticipated set of guidelines of what we may or may not spend.
The Park District’s capital budget is always one that is a work in progress. We start at the beginning of the year with an expected set of guidelines of what may or may not be spent throughout the year and these items are evaluated over the course of the year to determine whether or not we should move forward with the project or defer to future years. And in some cases, there may be a need to spend more money in emergency situations. Commissioner Benz asked if this was a budgeted item and President Brault replied that it was not budgeted.
Commissioner Graham clarified that the West Park rink was a budgeted item and was discussed at the last meeting but there was a consensus that West Park is simply not used based on input from the neighbors who indicated that. The original idea was that more children would use the ice at Thornwood Park since there are more children in that central area. And it was his view that providing children with the opportunity to skate in the wintertime was a good thing.
Commissioner Shelly stated she lives in Kenilworth Gardens and although she does not have hockey players in her family, she does think they will use the rink and believes there should also be more recreational skating. She disagrees that children will not be able to cross country ski or build snowmen if the rink was there. She spent her winters in the park walking her dog in the winter and usually she was the only one there. She thinks it would be a wonderful opportunity to test the rink at Thornwood for a year to see how it goes. Many people have mentioned studies and drainage and Superintendent Lambrecht has done a great job of addressing those concerns. She also doesn’t think bathrooms are necessarily an issue. However, she does feel there should be more times for the recreational skaters.
Commissioner Shelly moved and Commissioner Graham seconded a motion to revise the existing proposal to invert the usage times of the rink on Wednesday so that it is for recreational skating from 8 am until noon and then hockey from noon until close and on Tuesday and Thursday it is for hockey from 8 am until noon and recreational skating from noon until close.
Commissioner Olvany asked that since the Board has briefly discussed supervision of the rink are we now talking about scheduled hours that could be a risk management issue if there is supervision at this ice surface. Director Wilson replied that if an employee is not doing his or her job, it might open the Park District to more liability but from an insurance perspective this proposed rink is not considered supervised. Commissioner Olvany asked if all of the District’s unstructured outdoor activity venues are currently unsupervised and Director Wilson replied yes, that is correct.
Commissioner Murdock stated that he has seen a number of different viable possibilities including those people who asked why not try a rink at West Park. He was probably leaning that way although there were also a number of other possibilities that were also viable. There have been a lot of questions about the other locations the District had considered and he knows a lot of people have asked specifically about Howard Park. When this issue came up at the Committee level, he actually voted against it for a couple of reasons: 1) Because there were some questions that Commissioner Benz also had on the process, and 2) he was uncomfortable with linking hockey and recreational skating together. He had trouble putting together the issue of doing something at Thornwood and with allowing hockey although he thinks it makes sense to have hockey someplace within our community. However, just because we haven’t done something like this in the past that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t consider it now.
Whatever the Board decides tonight, Commissioner Murdock thinks there will be changes and modifications over the next couple of years if the decision is made to have pond hockey at Thornwood. He clearly thinks the District also wants to take a look at the Gillson Park location and he hopes this will be part of an evolution. He realizes that this proposal is a change for the immediate neighbors and he has heard from a number of different people who fear that whether the Board says it’s a one-year trial or not, once it has been put in place it will be something that will continue every year. However, he doesn’t think that would be the case this time. There had been a rink in the past at Thornwood and this year the decision was made to move away from West Park because there wasn’t any usage. He believes everyone needs to look at this as a one-year trial which he is doing. He agrees with President Brault’s comment that we need to make sure this is something we will revisit next spring. Commissioner Murdock stated he is the Chair of the Parks & Recreation Committee and will support the rink this time around but he will wants to make sure it is discussed at our meetings in the spring. If whatever option is deemed successful then he would want to address how much time was spent playing hockey at the Thornwood, Gillson or Mallinckrodt rinks.
Commissioner Murdock added he would like to go back and explain the process which will show how the Board’s decision was made. At one point we decided to have boards all around the rink but the current plan now calls for boards at either end. So the Board discussed what would make sense and what the costs would be and whether it would be permanent.
Director Wilson explained the original proposal was to have boards all the way around the rink due to rough play considerations. That was the main reason we tried to place boards at the end of the rinks when the original plan was to have full-size hockey nets. However, at the September 12th Board meeting, many people suggested pond hockey goals which are much closer to the ground and that resulted in the removal of the netting. He stated that maybe the next step would be to remove all of the boards since they would not be needed as well. There may also be another alternative that staff can research that wouldn’t necessarily be boards but maybe something less noisy.
President Brault stated that he really wants to make sure that safety remains an important issue. The rink would be a good distance away from the sidewalk on the Thornwood Avenue side but for the first year his preference would be to have the boards to make sure we are not creating an issue for people passing by the park. The likelihood of slap shots or higher wrist shots when playing pond hockey would be lower but his preference is to err on the side of safety to see what type of usage actually occurs.
President Brualt added that a part of this discussion has been ongoing for awhile and the questions being raised have already been considered several times before and he apologies that some of the answers were not to the liking of some people. Commissioner Shelly stated that many of the issues have now been addressed. She personally would not take her children to West Park since it just doesn’t have that neighborhood type of feeling and this rink is to be more of a residential type of ice surface.
President Brault answered a question from the audience who asked if the Board even knew how much water it would take to make a rink the size that is being proposed. President Brault answered that yes we do know and it would take an estimated 17,750 gallons of water for a 160-foot rink x 60-foot wide with 3” inches of water.
President Brault stated there is a motion on the table to revise the existing proposal regarding times of usage for hockey and recreational skating on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
By a roll call vote, voting Yes – Commissioners Benz, Brault, Crowley, Graham, Olvany, Murdock, and Shelly; voting No -- None. Absent – None; Motion carried.
Commissioner Olvany moved and Commissioner Murdock seconded a motion to change the closing time from 8 pm to 7:30 pm on Sunday through Thursday and to keep the closing time of 9 pm on Friday and Saturday evenings.
Commissioner Olvany stated these time changes would be more beneficial to the community and would still provide adequate time in the evening to play hockey.
President Brault felt that 8 pm was actually an appropriate time to close on the weekends since some families require that their children do their homework first which results in their not being able to pursue activities like hockey so he believes 8 pm would be better.
By a roll call vote, voting Yes – Commissioners Benz, Olvany, Murdock, and Shelly; voting No – Brault, Crowley, Graham; None. Absent – None; Motion carried.
Commissioner Graham moved and Commissioner Shelly seconded a motion to approve the Thornwood Park ice surface proposal as twice revised.
By a roll call vote, voting Yes – Commissioners Benz, Brault, Crowley, Graham, Olvany, Murdock, and Shelly; voting No -- None. Absent – None; Motion carried.
President Brault stated that at this point the Board has an approved proposal for an ice rink in Thornwood Park. The next step is for staff to take the proposal to the Village Zoning Board at its November 2 meeting with the amendments that we have approved tonight. He then expressed his thanks to everyone who provided input on this issue.
There being no further business to conduct, the meeting was adjourned at 9:32 pm.
MINUTES APPROVED OCTOBER 10, 2011.