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The Latest on the Gilson Beach Project

By Kathy Routliffe
Pioneer Press
October 10, 2017

Wilmette park board members must decide what type of kitchen, if any, to install in the new Gillson Park beach house before deciding how much to spend to complete the beach house and renovate its parking lot.

Commissioners made no decisions on either kitchen or general project costs when they met Monday, instead asking residents for more feedback on the kind of concession stand they would support at Gillson.

The decision could be made by lakefront committee members who next meet Nov. 6, said Commissioner Ryrie Pellaton, who chairs the committee. He urged residents to let the district know what they want in terms of concession service.

A concession decision could also affect how the board decides to pay for beach house and parking lot improvements, including whether and when to call a funding referendum for the project, something Commissioner John Olvany asked about.

Current cost estimates for building a beach house with a minimal kitchen, suitable for preparing sandwiches and other cold foods, stand at $7.2 million for construction but rise to $8.2 million when engineering, architecture and other fees are included, according to a September report to the lakefront committee.

Executive Director Steve Wilson said that amount rises to roughly $9 million when parking lot improvements are added. The district could expect to pay about $2 million more for road and sewer improvements that would be done over the next couple of years, he said.

Adding a full service kitchen to the beach house that would include a grill and fryer would add about $501,500 to the total, according to the report. Adding a “medium option” without a fryer but allowing for reheated precooked foods like chicken nuggets or pizza would add about $123,900, it said.

Kathy Bingham, the district’s recreation superintendent, reported that 11 of 14 concession operators she surveyed said they’d be interested in bidding to provide food if the district put in a full kitchen.

Just five of the 14 said they’d be interested in bidding for a summer contract if the district provided a smaller kitchen, Bingham said.

Olvany and Pellaton supported the idea of a full kitchen.

“I personally want to avoid spending money that meets only part of our public’s needs,” Pellaton said, while Olvany cited Bingham’s research.

“That’s a pretty good sign that if we’re going to get some sort of high quality food option down there, that we need to invest the money,” Olvany said.

Commissioners Shelley Shelly and Stephanie Foster said they had supported the idea of a full kitchen, but were put off by the half-million dollar price tag for upgrading from the “small option” baseline.

Shelly and Commissioners Bryan Abbott and Gordon Anderson said they supported the “medium option” if gas lines were included in construction. That would allow the district to upgrade to a full kitchen if demand became big enough, they said.

Board president Amy Wolfe also disliked the “large option” price, but said she didn’t want to go for a smaller option if it simply meant paying more to upgrade the kitchen later, potentially for even more money.

“I’m in favor of all or nothing – go big, or go home,” Wolfe said. The alternative, she said, could be putting no kitchen in, allowing people to bring their own food to the beach, or putting in vending machines.

Wilson and Bingham said allowing people to bring their own food to the beach, even if it was banned from the swimming beach, risked problems like drawing animals and birds to the beach to fight for scraps.

Olvany said he was disappointed that some non-kitchen decisions, like removing an ADA-compliant walk from Gillson Park down to the beach, and widening the entry road to the parking lot to allow for a marked bike lane, were being eliminated because of cost estimates.

Estimates currently put the ADA path at more than $350,000. Widening the entry road to have two lanes was estimated at more than $357,000, although the cost might be closer to $200,000 if widening the road was simply to add a bike lane, Wilson said.

Shelly disagreed with Olvany.

“It would be great if we had a bike path, it would be great if we had a full service kitchen,” she said. “At some point we have a responsibility, or it will all get shut down, just like it was three years ago.”

Shelly referred to the $14.5 million park district referendums, aimed at paying for large-scale lakefront improvements, that voters defeated in early 2015.

When Olvany asked how soon the board would have to decide if it wanted to put a funding referendum on next April’s ballot, Wilson said December would be the latest the board could wait.

Twitter: @pioneer_kathy
Copyright © 2017, Chicago Tribune

Copyright © 2017, Chicago Tribune