Brookfield trustees on Nov. 4 gave the OK to keep a $70,000 line item in the village’s 2022 budget to conduct a feasibility study for a new community recreation center, but whether the initiative moves ahead will require additional discussion.
Brookfield Recreation Director Stevie Ferrari recommended that the village seek a request for proposals from firms to conduct a study that would determine the community’s interest in such a facility, where it might be located, what it should offer and what it would cost.
Such an initiative would essentially restart an effort the village board talked about in late 2019 but fell victim to the COVID-19 pandemic. In December 2019, trustees gave Ferrari the go-ahead to bring in an architect to help identify options as part of a grant application process through the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
In a memo to the village board requesting the study be included in the 2022 budget, Ferrari laid out the need for tackling what is becoming an acute space issue for the Brookfield Parks and Recreation Department.
Since being hired as director in 2018, Ferrari has expanded the department’s offerings, which now include before- and after-school programming, more youth camps offerings in winter and summer and more special events.
To illustrate how much programming has changed, Ferrari provided trustees with revenue/expense figures from 2018-21 which showed annual revenues rising from about $153,000 to more than $515,000. While expenses rose as well, from about $322,000 in 2018 to $703,000 in 2021, the percentage of revenues funding expenditures has increased from 47 percent to 73 percent.
The department’s lone indoor space for general programming is located in the lower level of the village hall. That space houses the District 95 before- and after-school program as well as SEASPAR’s adult special recreation Eagles program.
The department has two buildings where it houses its preschool program and also leases gymnasium space from District 95 for sports programming and has recently reached out to Riverside School District 96 about leasing space.
“We are probably getting close to our capacity of what we can offer given our facility limitations,” Village Manager Timothy Wiberg told trustees at their 2022 budget workshop on Nov. 4.
Making matters worse in 2021 was a summer storm that flooded the entire lower level, taking that space offline entirely for seven weeks while it was cleaned up and renovated.
“We joke about it, but it’s really a substandard space,” Wiberg said.
But, elected officials on Nov. 4 voiced some hesitation about fully plunging into such a study without first getting buy-in from the community.
“We have to be really careful about having a huge amount of community support for this,” said Trustee Jennifer Hendricks, who as a former project manager for the Naperville Park District from 2005-08 “lived through a nightmare trying to build a rec center.”
“Spending $70,000 to $75,000 off the bat and finding out there isn’t public support for it would be a huge failure and I would hate to see that happen,” she added.
Elected officials were also unable to agree on how the village might go about surveying the community to see what interest is in building a new recreation center, what amenities they’d like to see inside such a facility and what the appetite might be for funding it.
Village President Michael Garvey voiced support for moving forward with a feasibility study “as quickly as we can.”
“I don’t think the danger is not that the public is not going to want it, it’s just the next step after that,” Garvey said. “The first step is to have professionals tell us what amenities we need, not what we need to pay.”
Trustee Katie Kaluzny also supported the study, saying, “It makes sense to do because otherwise we’re just making a lot of guesses about what it is we need.”
As far as crafting survey questions, Kaluzny said, village officials could work with the consultant they hire to do that.
As an initial step Trustee Brian Conroy suggested a simple online poll. If such a poll showed there was support, that would provide trustees with direction on moving forward with the feasibility study.
“It shows we’re being proactive and trying to get public input,” Conroy said.
Trustee Kit Ketchmark argued that residents who are already plugged in and tend to support such initiatives would be the most likely to respond to such a poll, so it probably wouldn’t provide an accurate snapshot of support.
Hendricks said that whatever decision the village board makes, it was incumbent on officials to communicate what they’re trying to accomplish.
“I don’t have a problem putting this into the budget as long as we are really, really careful about communication and making sure that this doesn’t automatically get a backlash like, ‘Oh my God, they’re going to build a rec center and my taxes are going to go up and this is a disaster. Let’s all get out there and vote it down,’” Hendricks said. “I think communication and building support for something like this has to be right at the top of the list.”