'Fishing hole swamp': Debate continues over cost of building Bicentennial Park

News-DemocratJune 28, 2013 

— Heavy rains have caused about $15,000 so far in damages at an ongoing construction project known as Bicentennial Park, formerly the Angler's Club property.

In April and May, rain caused erosion at the park due to the amount and force of the water that accumulated at the park in a short period of time. A berm and spillway were added to the park.

Mayor Mark Eckert said the city is working on permanent fixes to the flooding issue.

While the city is looking for remedies, nature does throw some curves, Eckert said.

Alderwoman-at-large Lillian Schneider said the park is becoming a money pit that is too costly to taxpayers.

She refers to the park off 17th Street as "a fishing hole swamp." She said it hasn't been worthwhile to purchase the land and she worries the costs will keep piling up.

"What's that going to cost us each time we get a heavy rain?" Schneider said.

Eckert said the park is a work in progress.

"We're still working on fine-tuning the park," Eckert said. "...I believe the park, when it's completed, will be fabulous for the city."

He said it will become the "premiere park" in Belleville.

Eckert had wanted to complete the Bicentennial Park project by 2014 for the 200th anniversary of Belleville, but now, he does not know when it will be completed.

"I don't even really have a vision of what completed means," Eckert said. "We might leave a lot of it in just wooded area, just nature trails. ... It's going to take some years."

The overall cost of the park so far is about $2.1 million. The city received a donation of $400,000 and a grant for $93,000. The rest of the money has come out of TIF funds.

Eckert said the project has moved slowly since 2009, with only about three of the 43 acres developed at this time. He said the city has budgeted what was available to develop the land in stages, applying for grants whenever possible.

"We knew and we told the public then that we would seek some grants, we would seek some opportunities and we would have to do it on a continuous basis of step-by-step of what we could afford," Eckert said.

The City Council voted 10-4 at a special meeting Wednesday to allow city staff to apply for another Illinois Department of Natural Resources grant to be used on the park.

If the city gets the grant for Open Space Lands Acquisition and Development, it would pay for $397,000 worth of work at Bicentennial Park, according to Eric Schauster, economic development specialist and grants coordinator for Belleville.

Schauster said the grant would help pay for adding a playground and nature education center at the park, among other improvements.

Aldermen who voted "no" were Ward 5 Alderman Joe Hayden, Ward 7 Alderman Trent Galetti, Ward 8 Alderman Joe Orlet, and Schneider.

Schneider said it is a waste to spend more taxpayer money at the park. She voted against applying for the grant because she does not want the city to have to put up more money just to match a grant.

"They spend the people's hard-earned money on swampland," Schneider said. "We overpaid for this property and keep spending money on it."

Instead, the money for the park could be a nice down payment for a new city pool, Schneider said.

"Here we are, a bigger city than Mascoutah, and we don't have a city swimming pool," Schneider said.

One of the reasons the property was originally purchased was because a park study in 2008 showed that Belleville did not have enough park land for its population compared with the national average.

Eckert said buying the old Angler's Club for Bicentennial Park was an attempt to address that deficiency.

"There are people who continue to be critical of what we're spending," Eckert said. "I'm very proud of that park."

Breakdown of the costs:

* Four payments of $200,000 over 4 years as installments for the purchase of the land. The final installment of $200,000 is budgeted to be paid off in November, Finance Director Jamie Maitret said.

* $845,083 to Mettler Development for the first two phases of park development.

* $140,000 to clear muck and debris from an old creek bed found in the area of the parking lot.

* $18,426 for a contract with EFK Moen LLC to design a bridge for the entrance to the park.

* $288,380 for a contract with Thiems Construction to build Bicentennial Bridge as required by the Department of Natural Resources.

* $10,233 for damages after the first heavy rain in April, including extra work with Thiems Construction to build a berm and spillway.

* $4,851.63 for damages after the second heavy rain in May to make repairs and remove debris.

Reporter Jacqueline Lee contributed information to the article. Contact Jacqueline Lee at jlee@bnd.com or 239-2655. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/BNDBelleville. Contact reporter Lexi Cortes at acortes@bnd.com or 239-2535.

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