By Jenny Quill, GazeboNews correspondent
The revitalization of Forest Park may not have been at the top of Monday night’s City Council meeting agenda, but it certainly prompted the evening’s most boisterous discussion. City Council approved the Forest Park Master Plan back in May, and Monday night’s discussion centered on two key motions: the ratification of the engagement of Bleck Engineering for design services for Forest Park infrastructure improvements, and the adoption of the Forest Park Agreement, both of which the Council passed despite initial concerns expressed by several aldermen and members of the audience.
By approving Bleck Engineering’s design services agreement, the City agrees to pay 80% of the infrastructure improvements outlined in the $67,000 design services agreement, with the Forest Park Project Board (FPPB), a 501(c)3 organization, on the line for the remaining 20%. The second item passed, the Forest Park Agreement, essentially solidified the City’s intent to work with the FPPB in the implementation of the Forest Park Master Plan. According to City Manager Bob Kiely, passing these agreements allows the City to earmark the necessary funds in the fiscal year 2014 budget and gives the FPPB the green light to move forward with its fundraising efforts.
Much of the evening’s debate focused on the need to differentiate between the City’s financial responsibilities for necessary infrastructure work and the FPPB’s design plans for the park, which include stone benches and picnic tables and pathways.
“The infrastructure improvements that were explained to us in the Public Works [Committee Meeting] are, at worse case, an acceleration of a necessary four- to five-year expenditure into a one to two-year expenditure to coincide with a construction project that we’ve already approved,” said Second Ward Alderman David Moore. “What we’re approving tonight is the ability to budget this $800,000 and the ability to commit to a level which allows the Forest Park Project Board to recognize our commitment and to begin fundraising.”
Those expenditures include infrastructure improvements to the park’s storm sewer, street lighting system, roadway and south parking lot, which both require resurfacing.
“As we began to look into this more, without a doubt, we need to replace the storm sewer,” said Director of Public Works Michael Thomas. “When you’re excavating, the electrical underground is old infrastructure and we knew that would need to be upgraded, so that’s item number two. Then you overlay the roadway, which needs to be done, as well as the south parking lot. Those four items were items we knew would be on the horizon in the next five years, probably sooner than that.”
In July, the City entered into an agreement with Bleck to provide the final design and an engineer’s cost estimate for the infrastructure improvements. The resulting design services agreement stipulates that the City will be responsible for improvements to the storm sewer, roadway, parking lot and lighting, which account for roughly 80% of the $67,000 agreement, or $53,600. Meanwhile FPPB will cover 20%, or $13,400, which encompasses “upgraded” design elements of the Master Plan, including stone for the ring road’s surface coat and pervious pavers for the south parking lot.
“Obviously, the improvement of the ring road would be a city infrastructure cost under normal circumstances,” said City Manager Bob Kiely. “However, the design called for a little higher grade improvement than what we normally do, so the added cost, that $100,000 you see included, is because the quality of the road would be elevated above what is a normal city standard. The city is only covering those costs that it would normally cover as part of its capital improvement plan, its infrastructure. Any enhancements beyond that fall into the responsibility of the Project Board.”
In addition to the design services agreement, the City also divulged the Forest Park Master Plan cost summary. Of the approximately $3.2 million total preliminary construction cost estimate, the City will foot the bill for the necessary infrastructure improvements to the tune of about $800,000, while the FPPB will need to cover the remaining $2.4 million.
You can find a link to the Forest Park Agreement and Master Plan Cost Summary by clicking here.
While there was general consensus that the infrastructure improvements need to be done, a few residents voiced concern about the increasingly complex and expensive nature of the project.
“This is a very simple little park,” said Lake Forest resident, garden writer and landscape historian Rommy Lopat. “And when we began it was a simple little project. It was pretty much the idea of resurfacing that road, redoing the parking lot, adding landscape and getting amenities consistent with each other. This has now become an enormous project. The $800,000-plus engineering is a huge amount of money given all the other landscaping projects we have in front of us—the emerald ash borer, the Route 60 project. How does this fit in with our other engineering costs?”