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Bloomington Council OKs Plan To Extend Constitution Trail

This slide shows the Southeast Trail Extension Project area. It was presented at the Bloomington City Council's remote meeting, Monday, Oct. 12, 2020.

The Bloomington City Council Monday night OK’d the next steps in a plan to extend the Constitution Trail in southeast Bloomington, creating a safer way for bicycle and foot traffic to cross under Veterans Parkway. 

When complete, the trail would stretch from Lafayette Street to Hamilton Road.

Also at the remote meeting, the council approved plans to spend $775,000 on design for a new O’Neil Pool; updated city codes including  sprinkler requirements in businesses; and heard from residents calling for Oct. 12 to be known as Indigenous People’s Day instead of Columbus Day.

Council member Jenn Carrillo, who represents Ward 6, was absent from Monday’s meeting. Earlier this year, she'd proposed the possibility of Bloomington officially changing the October holiday.

The 8-0 vote on the Southeast Trail Extension project means Bloomington can apply for a $1 million grant from IDOT's Transportation Enhancement Program (ITEP), with the understanding that if funding is awarded, the city would need to match about $342,000 toward the project. 

“Veterans Parkway serves as a barrier for folks, to head south or north,” city engineer Craig Shonkwiler told the council, adding the trail extension allows them safe, efficient ways to pass under the parkway. 

He said the project would connect downtown Bloomington with areas in southeast Bloomington.

The city would fund a trail gap from Lincoln Street to Lafayette. The ITEP project would begin at Lafayette Street, and then head south to Bunn Street along Easy Street. The trail would continue from Bunn, south to Hamilton Road. Shonkwiler said  the trail would cover several residential areas that could benefit from a safer way to cross Veterans.

Upon completion, the southern stretch would intersect with an east-west Hamilton Road trail project planned in the next few years, he said.

Shonkwiler shared with the council some safety concerns to be addressed, including setting some of the trail stretch away from high-traffic roads such as Bunn, and adding security cameras and lighting in the Veterans Parkway area.

Ward 1 Alderman Jamie Mathy said he’s glad the trail extension plans changed from creating a blacktop for bicyclists along Bunn Street to a path set off the road, because high industrial traffic is on Bunn.

Ward 8 council member Jeff Crabill voted “yes” on the project, but only after some questions were addressed by city administrators, he said. 

“I do have a concern about the cost,” said Crabill, noting impacts of COVID-19 still are unclear. But he learned Monday’s vote didn’t commit the city to spending the possible $342,000 in matching funds. 

“Once the state approves this, we'll get our final number on what the final match will be. And then we’ll get a chance to vote,” said Crabill. Mathy said he echoed that concern.

The ITEP program uses reimbursement. So, the city would need to approve the project's funding, including any match, and then Bloomington would handle upfront costs, being reimbursed along the way, Shonkwiler said.

O’Neil Pool project 

The council also voted 8-0 to award a $775,000 contract to Williams Architects, of Itasca, to design a water park to replace the now-demolished O’Neil Pool. The city pool closed in 2019. With its high-dive, and neighborhood feel, it had been a west side attraction since it opened in 1974. 

The new design for the O’Neil recreation area calls for a larger pool and spray park at the site, 1515 E. Chestnut St. 

The city hasn't said how much the aquatic center might cost, or what it’s willing to spend to build it.

Crabill said the investment in the west side was worth the price tag, and he supported the plan for the new pool. He encouraged the architects to seek community feedback on the plans, including outreach to former pool members. 

Building code updates, sprinkler requirements

In another matter, the council voted 7-1 to amend the city’s building codes, chapters 10, 15, 34 and 45, effective Jan. 1, 2021. These pertain to current International and national codes for building, plumbing, electric and other areas.

One part of the update, which won't take effect until Jan. 1, 2024, deals with the installation of sprinkler systems in all establishments where alcohol is permitted, and where occupancy allows for more than 300 people.

Mathy was the only “no” vote on the code amendments. He said he didn’t oppose the safety changes, but thought requiring businesses to install the sprinkler systems by 2024 could prove to be a financial burden. 

Several other council members said voting for the updates was a safety priority.

Ward 4 council member Julie Emig said information provided to the council showed local businesses could get assistance to make the changes. “It does seem that there are mechanisms for offsetting the costs,” she said.

At the start of Monday’s meeting, several public commenters called, once again, for the council to bring back a Welcoming Cities Ordinance proposal. The draft came before the council in 2018 but failed. It aims to limit information shared by local authorities with Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) regarding local residents immigration status.  At the council's Sept. 28 meeting, several commenters made similar pleas to bring the ordinance proposal back.

On Monday, each of the commenters also took time to say Bloomington should recognize Oct. 12 as Indigenous People’s Day, instead of honoring explorer Christopher Columbus on that date. 

Commenter Krystle Able said Columbus left a legacy of brutality and genocide, and she connected that with the anguish some asylum seekers and immigrants face today.

“We can’t change the past. But we don’t have to celebrate it," she said of the Oct. 12 holiday.

She went on to say, "We as a city can’t change federal immigration policy, but we can and should protect all residents of Bloomington. That includes a welcoming cities ordinance,” adding immigrants should feel safe to approach Bloomington police without fear of deportation. 

Another public comment from Robert Garcia echoed that sentiment, saying immigrants in Bloomington fear reporting crimes because of the lack of the protective ordinance. 

In other business, the council:

  • Awarded a $195,000 contract to P.J. Hoerr, Inc. to build a new evidence storage building at the Blooomington police training facility near Arrowsmith. The current structure had deteriorated, according to council materials.
  • Heard a report from Mayor Tari Renner that he’d received about a dozen applications for the council seat to be vacated by Ward 7 Alderman Scott Black on Oct. 31. Renner said residents of that ward can apply up to Friday for the seat, which he will appoint.
  • Heard an update from City Manager Tim Gleason, regarding the pandemic. Gleason said downtown businesses have been complying with requirements for social distancing and masks. And he said the city has allocated more than $140,000 in small business assistance grants, so far. He also noted State Farm Insurance Cos. recently had donated 5,000 masks to the city.

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Michele Steinbacher is a WGLT correspondent. She joined the staff in 2020.
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