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Bloomington Council OKs $11.8M O'Neil Pool, Park Project

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Bloomington City Council met remotely on Monday, March 22, 2021.

The Bloomington City Council on Monday voted 8-1 to move forward on the nearly $12 million O’Neil Pool and Park project on the city's west side.

The city had budgeted $10.3 million for the project. But it’s now expected to cost just over $11.8 million. The center, set to open in May 2022, will include a 1,000-occupancy aquatic center with several pools, slides, a lazy river, and a splash pad. The project also expands parking and rebuilds the skate park.

“This really is a game changer,” said Mayor Tari Renner, of the decade-long plan to update the west side attraction, calling approval of the project one of his proudest moments as mayor.

Also at the meeting, the council held a public hearing about the proposed $250.3 million budget for fiscal 2022, which the board is set to vote on April 12; approved raises for Bloomington firefighters; and designated the former State Farm Insurance’s downtown building as a historic landmark. 

Only one resident called into the virtual meeting to a make comment during the budget hearing. Resident Willie Holton Halbert, who also is a Ward 3 candidate in the April 6 election, said she’d like to see a city budget process that asks for community feedback much earlier in the year.

The proposed FY22 budget is $20 million higher than FY21 -- nearly all of that attributed to infrastructure and capital projects. The proposed budget includes $109.1 million in the general fund -- about 1.1% lower than the previous year.

O’Neil Project gets green light

Renner said the O’Neil project is worth the price tag, adding it will improve the quality of life in the neighborhood, boost property values, and will be a driver of economic development on the west side.

Most council members took time Monday to vocalize their support for the project -- for both its immediate value and its broader community impact.

“I see it as a recognition of the west side as part of the community,” said Ward 7 Alderwoman Mollie Ward. “It’s symbolic of a renewed focus on the needs of the west side. But also with the recognition that they affect the entire community.” She said the project’s impact would be felt beyond Ward 7. 

For more than a century, O’Neil Park has been important to Twin City residents -- the last 50 years with its pool, said Ward, noting it's long been understood the amenity was in need of attention. 

Bloomington Parks, Recreation, and Cultural Arts Director Jay Tetzloff agreed. He said when he arrived in Bloomington more than a decade ago, revamping O’Neil Pool was a conversation piece. 

“It’s been on the radar for a while," added Deputy City Manager Billy Tyus.

Though the cost of the O’Neil Pool and Park project has been creeping up over the last month, on Monday, the council overwhelmingly supported the project as presented. The $11.8 million project includes 10% for contingency costs. The city already has spent $775,000 with Itasca-based Williams Architects on the design phase of the project.

“I think we’re in a good position to take on a project like this,” said Scott Rathbun, the city’s finance director. He said the city has several financing options.

Ward 2 alderwoman Donna Boelen was the only “no” vote. She said she supported the pool, but not the scale and cost of the project, adding she doesn’t believe it will have an economic development impact. Boelen said she also opposed basketball courts being removed, and the parking lot expansion adding asphalt to a green space. 

“I don’t want us to lose sight of the fact that investment follows investment,” said Tyus, mentioning pool and park visitors dining at nearby restaurants, and filling tanks at nearby gas stations. That in turn could lead to new businesses along Market Street, he said.

Tetzloff said he believes the O’Neil Pool revenues could double. 

One often-echoed concern Monday was how to keep the new aquatic center accessible -- both in physical ways, and financial ones.

“It would be the greatest irony to have a project like this in this part of our community and yet people who live next to it not be able to afford to go there,” said Renner. “We don’t want barriers to something like this. In many ways it defeats the purpose.” 

Renner said with Bloomington expecting nearly $14 million from the federal COVID-stimulus package, he hopes the council will take a sliver of that to create a fund focused on keeping O'Neil accessible.

Besides pool admission, access to the splash pad also was discussed. Ward said she agreed with several residents advocating for the splash pad to remain free-of-charge, even during pool hours.

Firefighters contract

In another matter, the council unanimously approved a four-year contract with Bloomington Firefighters Local 49 that calls for a 2.5% raise the first year, starting May 1. For the next three years, firefighters will see annual 2.25% raises. 

Based on the raises, over the four-year period, the city will pay an additional $229,000 the first year; $211,000 in year two; $217,000 in the third year; and $221,000 in year four.

The contract also includes a 25-year longevity pay step, at 15%; clarifies fire investigation pay rates; and expands residency requirements to a 50-mile radius, among other points. Eric Hall, local president, said the union voted 55-1 to approve the contract. 

The collective bargaining was collaborative, and took only two sessions to find agreement, noted Tyus. 

Former State Farm Building gets historic nod

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Credit Staff / WGLT
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The site formerly known as the State Farm Building now is an official local landmark, with historic preservation zoning.

The council also voted unanimously to designate the building formerly known as State Farm Building as a local historic landmark with historic preservation zoning.

The Franklin Park Foundation nominated the site, at 112 E. Washington Street, for the designation.

The tower, built downtown circa 1928-1947, was constructed in the art deco and Chicago style.

It’s located in the Downtown Bloomington National Register District.

State Farm announced plans to demolish the building in the summer of 2019. However, a community effort to save the building followed, with Keplr Vision moving its offices there.

$1.4 million for vehicles replacement

Also at Monday’s meeting, as part of its consent agenda, the council approved spending roughly $1.4 million to replace city vehicles, including eight police sports utility vehicles, a transit van, five heavy-duty trucks, and a dump truck. The vote also allows city staff to auction the vehicles being replaced. 

The 15 vehicles were purchased through contracts with five Illinois vendors: Rush Truck Centers, Central Illinois Truck Centers, Morrow Brothers Ford, Currie Motors, and Miles Chevrolet. 

In other business, the council:

  • Heard a presentation from Public Works Director Kevin Kothe about the city’s solid waste program. Kothe discussed possible upcoming changes to programs for leaf collection and drop-off, as well as burning brush. He also talked about storm cleanup, and curbside trash, bulk, and brush pick-up. 
  • Learned downtown curbside dining returns this spring. The city is adding street barriers to some restaurants, said Tyus. Business owners can apply now.
  • Approved a contract of about $478,000 with Donohue & Associates, Inc., for SCADA Improvements Design.
  • Approved an estimated $506,000 contract with Stark Excavating to complete Sugar Creek Pump Station improvements for fiscal 2021. 
  • Approved two items related to the city’s printing services: a five-year agreement with Watts Copy Systems, Inc., not to exceed $296,400; and a state and local government lease-purchase agreement with De Lage Landen Public Finance LLC. The council waived technical bidding requirements in both cases. 
  • Adopted the official 2020 zoning map for the city, replacing the 2019 map OK’d in March 2020. 
  • Spent an additional $58,000 with Maurer Stutz, Inc, on construction inspection and design services for the FY2021 Sugar Creek lift station, and force main design. 
  • Amended the city’s water leak adjustment policy. More information on this is on the city’s website, under it’s finance category.  
  • Approved a preliminary plan and a special use permit for a 7.3-acre planned unit development south of Southgate Drive, east of Main Street.
  • Changed the zoning map for part of a six-acre section in the Hawthorne Commercial Subdivision, south of General Electric Road. The council also tabled voting about a zoning change for a section of that area. 

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