Watts second floor remains vacant
Glencoe Park District beach/Watts manager David Johnson stands amid the assorted items stored on the second floor of the Watts Ice Center, unusable due to handicapped inaccessibility and lack of a fire exit. |Irv Leavitt~Sun-Times Media
Updated: May 20, 2013 4:48PM
GLENCOE — One afternoon last week, kids were skating and playing hockey in Watts Park’s two rinks, and being led in a Lego construction project in the big ground floor recreation room.
But on the second floor of the Watts Center, no kids in sight.
There never are any, and there haven’t been for decades. No adults, either. More than 800 square feet of park district space remains vacant except for storage of 10-year-old computers, empty file cabinets, carnival equipment and such.
There is lots of little-used space at the District’s Takiff Center, but the space at Watts Park’s fieldhouse may be more valuable because it’s adjacent to South School, attended by Glencoe’s littlest public school kids.
“The parents want after-school activities that the kids can walk to from the school,” Glencoe Park District President Max Retsky said. Now, kindergarten kids have to ride the school bus to the Takiff Center for most pre- or post-session classes, paying for full District 35 bus service no matter how many or few times they want to go.
Or their parents drive them.
Or they send their kids elsewhere, like to Am Shalom’s programs.
“The second floor isn’t usable because we don’t have an elevator,” Retsky said. The building, erected six decades ago, didn’t account for the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.
A 2001 remodeling didn’t do the trick, either.
There’s also no second-floor fire exit.
“I’d love to open it up so the kids at South can do more things,” Retsky said. “It’s a pipe dream. We just don’t have the money.”
How much money would it take?
A fire escape serving a two-story public building would cost between $12,000 and $18,000, installed, a representative of Chicago Fire Escape said last week.
The elevator would cost $50,000 to $70,000, Craig Zomchek of Bensenville’s Colley Elevator said.
That doesn’t count running power to the site, smoke detectors and an architect to place the shaft in the building somewhere suitable and safe.
“And it really depends on what you’re cutting through,” he said.
Yet, if the necessity for accessibility is less than constant, he said, “there are also wheelchair lifts. We put one of those in Union Station.”
Those cost between $12,000 and $20,000, but they don’t last as long as elevators, and they need architectural support similar to what elevators require.
Last summer, $200,000 in excess district funds were moved to a capital account, but that money won’t be available for Watts. The deteriorating Glencoe Beach staircase is expected to cost $150,000 or more to set right.
Revenue from the center itself won’t help, either. It’s expensive to create and maintain ice, and the center usually loses money. Ice skating starts later and ends earlier than most other rinks; neighbors don’t like the noise from off-hours skating.
The park district’s Watts advisory group discussed the second floor of the Watts Ice Center building, district Watts/Beach manager David Johnson said last week. Most of the time was spend discussing skating rules and fees, however. One big change they authored was scheduling hockey free skating separately from general public skating, for safety.
Among the ideas broached for the second floor were a restaurant, concessions, a fitness center and rooms to rent for parties, Johnson said. South School kids weren’t mentioned, and neither was a way for fire safety and accessibility issues to be paid for.
“It’s not fabulous or grandiose,” Johnson said of the second floor. “But it is space.”
District Commissioner Hilary Lee led the advisory group, but months later, didn’t remember talking about the second floor.
“Right now, I don’t think we need the space,” she said.