“Youth Campus Park”?


With the announcement that the Park Ridge Youth Campus is closing down, the Park Ridge Recreation and Park District has expressed interest in acquiring all or part of the almost 12 acre parcel for as-yet unspecified recreational purposes.

That brings back memories of November 1996, when the Park District attempted to acquire another large parcel of non-profit land: the 14-acre Edison Park Home property along Canfield south of Talcott.  The District needed approximately $8 million to buy the land from Cambridge Homes, which already had acquired it from Lutheran Social Services but admirably put its development plans on hold until the bond-debt authorization referendum could be held.

Such a referendum was needed because the Park District had foolishly used up all its non-referendum borrowing ability a few years earlier to build the Community Center on land it acquired from the YMCA after that organization decided to close down its Park Ridge facility.    

Unfortunately for the Park District and its referendum, the City wanted the extra tax revenue that would come from the 50+ single-family homes that were contemplated for what is now Brickton Place – which would come with virtually no additional costs to the City, as Cambridge would be installing all the needed infrastructure; and no additional police or fire personnel were expected to be necessary.

Supporters of School District 64’s April 1997 “Yes/Yes” referendum to build a new Emerson Middle School didn’t want the passage of an $8 million referendum by the Park District in November 1996 to jeopardize the success of D-64’s $20 million+ plans, even though adding all the homes planned for that site was projected to generate more than $100,000 a year in operating deficits for D-64, based on the number of students those homes would add and the cost of educating them compared to the tax revenue they would generate for D-64.

So the Park District was left to sell that referendum on its own, using a “Keep the ‘Park’ In Park Ridge” slogan.  And it failed, costing the District the 2 baseball fields, 2 soccer fields, 1 football field, and the tennis, volleyball and basketball courts that were included in the plans devised by the District’s consultant.

Despite the current recession, we have to believe that the price for the Youth Campus will be higher than the $8 million Edison Park Home went for 16 years ago, especially given the Youth Campus’ “Country Club” location.

Which leaves us unsurprised to hear that the Park District may be looking into partnering with a private developer – Mark Elliott? – to split up the Youth Campus land, with roughly half of it being privately developed into single-family homes while the remainder goes for parks and recreation.  That could be a win-win situation: converting half of a currently tax-exempt property into taxable property, while at the same time reducing the community’s shortage of park and recreation land.

But although the District can always use more acreage – according to generally accepted standards, Park Ridge arguably is scores of acres short of the parks and recreation space recommended for a community its size – any major capital expenditure like this deserves to go to referendum in order to ascertain and enlist the support of the taxpayers, even if the District has sufficient non-referendum bonding power to do the deal without voter approval. 

This is especially important in light of the recent discovery that Centennial Pools are in need of imminent replacement after 60 years of faithful service.  With Oakton Pool gone, the District is no longer over-saturated (pun intended) with outdoor water for a community our size in a northerly climate such as ours. 

It’s with that last point in mind, however, that we hope the Park District seriously considers a design and/or features for any new Centennial pool complex that would permit the new facility to operate for at least double the customary 3-month outdoor pool season. Perhaps some form of indoor/outdoor facility (such as is available from companies like the Berndorf Baderbau Group) might be the answer, although it will require a little outside-the-box thinking and greater initial expense.

But it beats committing several million dollars of capital, or issuing an equivalent amount of bonded debt and then servicing it for 5-15 years thereafter, for a facility usable a mere 3 months per year.

That doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense, even for government.

To read or post comments, click on title.