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McHenry City Council picks recreation facility over aquatic center

McHENRY – With a combined aquatic and recreation center out of reach financially, McHenry plans on focusing in on a recreation facility that could take a load off the city’s municipal center and provide a revenue generating fitness center.

The McHenry City Council reached the consensus at a Committee of the Whole meeting Monday evening after discussing the results of a feasibility study conducted by Elgin-based Dewberry Architects.

The study showed that the $4.5 million the city has put aside over the years and the estimated profit the combined center would make would not be enough to cover the cost of constructing and financing a combined facility.

With budget concerns on the horizon – in approving another flat levy last month, council members said city staff would have to tighten their belts to make ends meet – Alderwoman Geri Condon said she couldn’t justify dipping into the city’s general fund to cover an expanded project.

“As far as the aquatic center, it's not dead,” Alderman Andy Glab said. “If we go to the rec center, it’s not dead. It might be the next phase, but again we have to look right now at what we can afford."

For now, the council decided to move forward with the recreation side of the facility, charging staff to investigate what it can build with the money it has plus any profit the facility would generate.

A recreation center meets “our most urgent need,” Mayor Sue Low said.

By moving the city’s parks and recreation department out of the city’s municipal center, it would free up space for the crowded police department, Deputy City Administrator Bill Hobson said.

A recreation center also would provide a consolidated space for year-round programming, Alderman Robert Peterson said.

Parks and recreation programming currently takes place at St. Paul Episcopal Church, McHenry Municipal Center, Lakeland Park Community Center, Greens of Irish Prairie and McHenry schools.

The council also reached a consensus that city staff should investigate possible uses for a former dairy barn that sits on the southwest end of neighboring Knox Park.

The barn was acquired by the city in 1979 and is currently used for storage and hosts the McHenry Area Jaycees' annual haunted house.

Dewberry Architects also conducted an audit of the barn and highlighted in its final report how Streamwood transformed the Hoosier Grove Barn, built in 1888, into a banquet and meeting room rental facility.

Condon was "really intrigued" by the concept, she said.

While Peterson said he wasn't keen on creating something that would compete with local businesses, he could see the city hiring a firm to run the banquet hall.

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