Failing facilities, dilapidated parks inspire increased 2023 Capital Improvement Plan budget


Photo by Jorge Mendelez

Evanston’s parks are in need of improvement, according to City Engineer and Capital Planning Bureau Chief Lara Biggs.

City staff proposed a 2023 Capital Improvement Plan budget at Monday’s City Council meeting. The plan, designed to address infrastructure issues in Evanston, will feature a significant increase from last year’s budget due to city park and facility failures and water intake pipeline replacement. 

This year, the project is slated to cost $103 million, a $39 million increase from last year’s budget.

“Staff is struggling to pull together a Capital Improvement Program that is (at) a reasonable level,” City Engineer Lara Biggs said. “In previous years, we’ve had one hour discussions about CIP out of the entire budget, and we recognize that it is probably time to have a more serious detailed conversation.” 

Biggs said the plan’s biggest expense is the city’s water fund. Evanston requires a water intake pipeline replacement, which increases the price to $40 million, though it will be funded mainly through federal loans. 

Biggs also said the city should consider fixing problems with its animal shelter, civic center and ecology center. Those issues will need to be funded by General Obligation bonds, which come from tax revenue. Councilmembers said they hope to avoid relying on those bonds. 

Many city parks also need renovations to update or even remove deteriorating equipment. Structures in city parks become unsafe after a certain amount of time, and Biggs said leaving them in place is a safety hazard.   

“Playgrounds have (a) useful life of 15 years, and we have 12 playgrounds that are over 25-years-old,” Biggs said. “We’re not going to be able to do everything at once. The consequence, like in parks, is largely just taking out equipment until we get around to replacing.” 

Ald. Jonathan Nieuwsma (4th) suggested the city connect with nonprofit organizations to improve parks. 

The city also added a new sustainability section to focus on sustainable-centered infrastructure, continuing with last year’s goal of combining CIP infrastructure development with environmental justice through the Climate Action and Resilience Plan. The plan aims to get Evanston to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. 

Ald. Devon Reid (8th) said it is important to consider geographic equity when implementing this year’s plan. Sewage and stormwater replacement is especially important in the 8th Ward, where he said climate change is causing residents’ homes to flood. 

“The south end of town, the 8th Ward, has been experiencing, especially with the rain in the last few weeks and few recent storms, really bad flooding,” Reid said. “We’re making investments here, particularly in the south and part of town that I represent.” 

Council will continue to discuss the CIP to bring down costs and further develop equity goals in the plan, Mayor Daniel Biss said. 

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Twitter: @shannonmtyler

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