Brookfield officials are right to have pumped the brakes on applying for a state grant that could help fund the construction of a new or radically altered existing recreational facility.
Last week, village staff approached the village board to see if trustees would support an application to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources for a grant of up to $2.5 million to fund 75 percent of a project to either build a new community rec center in Ehlert Park or do a major renovation of the lower level at the Brookfield Village Hall, where the rec department is headquartered and hosts some programs.
Either scenario would have required asking for the full grant amount, and the deadline for submitting that grant application was Jan. 21, 2020. Factoring in the holidays, the need for staff to convene a public forum to gather input and support and the time it would take to come up with a workable plan, members of the village board were skeptical.
In the end, trustees directed staff to scale back their plans and focus on a simpler remodel of the lower level at village hall. To have moved ahead with such direction would have been a huge mistake.
It would have seemed like a major missed opportunity to cheap out on a cosmetic fix to what for Brookfield is a real need. For years, residents have identified some sort of community center or rec center – with space for new programing for seniors and teens – as a high priority.
It would have been foolish to take a pass on obtaining up to $2.5 million to help fund the construction of a facility via a state grant that’s been offered only occasionally in the past decade.
Instead, with a little more legwork, staff learned that the village’s smaller-scale application wouldn’t have passed muster for grant funding and, more importantly, that the IDNR plans on seeking grant applications again in 2021.
That last bit of news was the clincher. Brookfield officials now have an entire year to assess what solution would be best for the village and the department, get meaningful public input and buy-in and put together a grant application that won’t seem like it was hastily pulled from an architect’s rejects folder.
You don’t get too many opportunities to make these kinds of improvements, so it’s important to do it right when the opportunity arises. We’ll be interested to see the final pitch to the IDNR when the village pulls it together late next year.