Replacements for Bloomington’s O’Neil Pool and the Market Street parking garage appear to be on the horizon, with items related to both facilities included in the proposed budget for the 2021 fiscal year.
Finance Director Scott Rathbun joined other department administrators in delivering a presentation on the spending plan during Monday’s City Council meeting. Among the highlighted expenses was $1.3 million for repairs to the 550-space downtown parking deck, which was built in 1974.
“Considerable structural repair needs to be done to it, and then a lot of drainage improvements,” said Facilities Director Russ Waller. “All the floor drains need to be entirely replaced. Several structures themselves need to be repaired or replaced.”
Waller said the four-level garage currently sees 80% utilization during the week, mostly by monthly downtown customers. He added the structural repairs could keep the garage viable for five to seven years.
When council member Jamie Mathy asked “at what point do we stop throwing money at this garage?” Waller said “we’re there” – but insisted the budgeted repair project still needs to happen.
“We either are going to have to do the repairs of find an alternate location to put those roughly 350 paid parking customers,” Waller said. “In my opinion, we do need to go ahead with these repairs. But we also need to go ahead with planning on what we’re going to do next.”
Council member Scott Black admitted the garage is needed but said he believes replacement plans should be developed now.
“It’s going to be very hard for me to vote in favor of a budget that has more money devoted to this parking garage without some back-end strategy immediately taking effect,” he said. “I would actually prefer for us to right now get the plan in place: hire the architect, do what we've got to do to tear it down and rebuild it.”
When council member Mboka Mwilambwe said he wondered whether parking garages are the best use of the city’s money, Waller admitted the facilities are expensive to build and rarely make up that cost.
“But you have to compare that to the amount of parking you can provide in a facility like that versus your flat-surface parking,” he said. “You have to look at it from a standpoint of available surface area, and quite honestly downtown we do not have that.”
Weller said hiring consultants to evaluate replacement options will be included in the 2022 budget.
The budget proposal also featured a $738,000 “placeholder” for design work on a replacement for the 45-year-old aluminum pool at O’Neil Park. Jay Tetzloff, director of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Arts, said that type of pool typically lasts 25 years and the current facility may not have many seasons left.
“From the work we’ve done this fall and over the winter, we probably have this year and next year,” Tetzloff said. “I’m fairly confident of that. Beyond that, every year something else comes up.”
Tetzloff said the initial step is to determine the direction of the project – whether to simply replace the pool or turn the facility into an updated aquatic center.
“Once that's determined, we’d hire an architect and engineering firm to come in and do the design work for whatever the scope of the project is,” he said.
Black said he wants to see the project get underway as soon as possible.
“What I was more worried about is that we would get a study and then we’d think about it for three years and then maybe decide later. I'm not interested in that,” he said. “The timeline needs to move very quickly.”
Responding to a question from council member Jeff Crabill, Tetzloff said the current pool recovers about 17% of its operating expenses. He estimated a new pool would boost that figure to 20%, while an aquatic center could raise that to 60% - but come with a higher price tag.
Black said a new facility is desperately needed regardless of the expense.
“This isn’t an economic development project,” said Black. “This is a quality of life (project) for an area that absolutely deserves it, and is a facility that we’ve stretched the life out of for years and years and years.”
City manager Tim Gleason said he expects to have a full project in the budget for 2022.
A public hearing on the proposed 2021 budget is scheduled for March 9, with the council expected to vote on the spending plan in April.
The council also heard a presentation on the 2020 U.S. Census from Caryl Riley, a senior partnership specialist with the 2020 Census working in its Chicago regional office. Riley urged the members to take active roles in helping get every resident counted.
“You are the trusted voices in this community,” Riley said. “You have skin in this game, and that message from you is much more imperative and much more impactful than me.”
Riley detailed the types of questions census takers will ask, but also stressed the kinds of questions they won’t.
“We never ask Social Security numbers,” she said. “We never ask citizenship; this was a big debate, it was eliminated (so) we do not ask the citizenship question. We do not ask for mother’s maiden name. We do not ask for income or bank information.
“We don’t solicit a contribution to anything; we don’t do anything that identifies with a political party.”
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