Robert Crown funding still on track, set to open in January


Daily file photo by Julia Esparza

The Robert Crown Center at 1701 Main St. Although Beacon Academy withdrew funding from the project, the Friends of the Robert Crown Center is in no rush to finance the rest of the project.

Cassidy Wang, Assistant City Editor

Although Beacon Academy withdrew $500,000 from funding the Robert Crown Community Center in August, the Friends of Robert Crown Center remain confident in their ability to finance the project.

When undergoing contract negotiations, the private Evanston high school realized the center’s usage would have to be adjusted “in ways not contemplated,” said Patty Abrams, the chair of the school’s board of trustees, in an Aug. 5 letter to the city. The original agreement between the city and Beacon Academy included displaying the school’s branding in the gym.

Even though Beacon Academy pulled out, the Friends of the Robert Crown Center, a non-profit group committed to fundraising for the project, has raised just over $12 million in commitments and donations, according to city data.

With a $15 million project fund planned for 2019, the organization has around $3 million left to raise, although Pete Giangreco, a board member of the organization, said they have secured $1 million from the state in the spring legislative session. That leaves around $2 million left to raise. However, Giangreco said the group doesn’t have a “hard deadline” to get the rest of the money.

“We do have some major asks, some major grant proposals that are out there,” Giangreco said. “But we feel confident that we can replace the $500,000 that we were counting on from Beacon. It’s just going to take longer to raise the money.”

The $53 million project is set to be completed in January and was originally projected to cost $30 million, a price many residents supported in 2015. Over time, inflation and new additions to the project, including a library branch and turf field, have increased the cost estimate.

Evanstonians for a Financially Responsible Robert Crown, a group of citizens who are concerned about the high cost of the project, has tried to illustrate the potential burden the project could have on taxpayers. The city’s annual debt payments range from $1 million to $2.5 million over 25 years.

Mike Vasilko, a member of the group, anticipates the cost of the project will adversely affect the Fiscal Year 2020 budget, forcing the city to cut services and raise taxes. During last year’s budget season, City Council wrestled with a deficit totaling $7.4 million, cutting social services.

“It’s such an extremely expensive project that these next weeks are going to be interesting to watch council members defend their decision to build this building at our expense,” Vasilko said.

Giangreco said the Friends of Robert Crown’s fundraising efforts are currently focused on reaching out to organizations interested in gaining rights in various rooms or places in the building and applying for grants and other donations through foundations.

At a Sept. 23 City Council meeting, aldermen voted to allow two youth hockey groups, the Chicago Young American Girls Hockey Organization and Evanston Youth Hockey Association, to use the Robert Crown Center ice arena with their funding of the project.

Some residents were concerned that allowing the groups to use the ice arena would restrict the public’s time to use the arena. However, Giangreco said every program at Robert Crown right now, with the exception of adult softball, will continue. He said the building is doubling in size to accommodate two full sheets of ice.

However, Vasilko said the size of the ice ranks is unnecessarily large and too expensive.

“Citizens have to pick up the tax for that because the people who forced the issue to build this, they wanted this facility,” Vasilko said. “To be blunt, it’s the wealthy, white 1 percent that wanted that facility, two NHL hockey rinks.”

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