It may be a long shot, but the Arlington Heights Park District still will try to lobby the state to change the terms of a grant awarded for a Camelot Park improvement project.
The park board's president, Maryfran Leno, said she will visit Springfield to make a case to state legislators and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. At issue is whether Arlington Heights can change the location for the improvements or save money on the current plan by eliminating the indoor walking track.
The current $5.83 million park renovation calls for a new full-size gym, indoor walking track, entry and lobby, as well as expanded parking and increased accessibility.
The Park District was awarded a $2.5 million matching grant from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources in October of 2011. The state grant requires the upgrades be built by June 30, 2014, which Park District officials said means planning should begin as soon as possible.
The district's $3.33 million share of the money to renovate Camelot Park, at 1005 E. Suffield Drive, was included in the two tax increase proposals that were rejected last year. The Park District went for a $48 million referendum in March and then a $39 million referendum in November for major improvements at several of the village's largest parks and community centers.
Although results were close, voters rejected both. The board has been in limbo ever since.
Bob Ruffatto, a resident, said that although he opposed both referendums, he urged the board to accept the grant for Camelot Park.
"I believe that the majority of the Camelot Park plan fits the objective of cost-effective improvements," he said.
A decision about Camelot Park, which is in the northern end of the village, is expected at the next board meeting on Jan. 22.
Some board members said they would prefer to take on an improvement project at a park more central in the village, such as the Olympic Indoor Swim Center or Frontier Park. There likely won't be major improvements to other facilities for at least a decade once the village selects the project it will tackle, officials said.
The Park District's executive director, Steve Scholten, said he's been in talks with the state department and has received firm "no" answers to changing the scope or site of the project. He said it would be difficult, though not impossible, to change a project plan after it has already been awarded money.
If the Camelot plan goes forward as is, the board could take on as much as $5 million in debt, max out the district's borrowing authority or dip into its $6 million reserves.
If the Park District rejects the grant, the district would be barred for two years from getting another grant award, state officials said. In the last decade, the Arlington Heights Park District has received four grants worth a total of $3.7 million.
Mary Vickers, a resident, said two years of being barred isn't a long time and that the issue has created a dynamic of pitting neighborhoods against each other for better facilities.
"These are tough times, and I think we should forgo that money. I think it was a bad decision to apply for the grant," Vickers said.
The board members, meanwhile, all acknowledged that they were facing a tight timeline to make decisions.
"In my mind, I would want to continue to go forward. I don't want to turn down the money," said Commissioner Robert Whisler.