By Bob Uphues
Whenever Brookfield conducts a survey about what residents want the village to provide when it comes to recreation, a community rec center is invariably at or near the top of the list.
Last week, Recreation Director Stevie Ferrari told members of the village board that a possible way to help fund such a building would be through a grant program administered by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, which is seeking applications for projects.
And on Dec. 9 elected officials gave Ferrari the OK to bring in an architect for a site visit to nail down options that might be feasible.
But, instead of trying to spin up a concept plan prior to the IDNR's Jan. 21 deadline, officials will now work with an architect for the next year to come up with a plan that can be submitted for an expected second round of grant applications in 2021.
Ferrari is expected to seek direction from the village board on how to proceed next month.
"We're taking our time and looking at a project concept for a new building," Ferrari told the Landmark in a phone interview late last week. "This is such a great opportunity. I really hope it turns into something."
Ferrari appeared before the village board on Dec. 9 to pitch trustees on supporting spending $20,000 to $25,000 for an architect to create a concept plan for submission to the Illinois Park and Recreation Facility Construction (PARC) grant program next month.
She laid out two options for seeking a grant. One would be to demolish the existing Recreation House in Ehlert Park and build a new 3,000-square-foot community center in its place.
The other would be a comprehensive overhaul of the existing lower-level recreation hall at the Brookfield Village Hall, including creating a new entrance to the lower level on the west side of the village hall and bringing in direct light to the space, completely reconfiguring interior spaces, renovating the bathrooms and kitchen and installing a new elevator.
Both projects likely would have sought the maximum grant award of $2.5 million, which would have represented 75 percent of the total cost.
Elected officials, and Village President Kit Ketchmark in particular, were skeptical that either plan could be vetted and designed in the six-week time frame available before applications were due to the IDNR.
Trustees agreed that Ferrari should scale back the plans and instead focus on remodeling the existing recreation space at the village hall.
However, scaling the project back to essentially cosmetic upgrades would have made the village ineligible for the grant, said Ferrari.
"It wouldn't qualify unless it was a new build or large-scale remodeling and repurposing," Ferrari said.
Ferrari learned, however, that the $25 million state grant program rolled out this year is just the first of two such requests for projects, with another $25 million being made available in 2021.
With another grant opportunity on the horizon, Ferrari will re-approach the village board in January for direction on how to focus planning for a new community recreation facility. It will also allow village officials time to go back to residents and get their input on what a new facility should offer.
After meeting in Brookfield with an architect from the firm Dewberry on Dec. 12, Ferrari said that the cost for building a new facility would likely be the same as trying to comprehensively overhaul the existing village hall space.
As an alternative to building a new facility in Ehlert Park, the architect also said it might be possible to build a new recreation facility to the west of the village hall. The cost for such a building, said Ferrari, would be an estimated $3 million.
Illinois Park and Recreation Facility Construction (PARC) grants must be used to fund brick-and-mortar projects, such as building a new recreation center or remodeling existing buildings for those purposes.
Park districts and municipalities can seek grants of between $25,000 and $2.5 million, and such grants would fund 75 percent of the total project cost. The other 25 percent of the burden must be borne by the local agency.
Both in 2020 and 2021, the IDNR has $25 million to award for projects, and Ferrari said she expects competition for those dollars to be fierce.
"There's no for-sure odds you can give us in any submission," Ferrari said about the likelihood of Brookfield winning PARC funding. "It's a competitive grant, because of the amount of the award that it is."
Ferrari, however, said that working up a plan would position the village to be prepared for other potential grant opportunities in the future, should the village fail to win a PARC grant.
Calls for applications for PARC grants are infrequent. The last call for projects was five years ago, according to Ferrari.