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City council approves a $2 million application to renovate Hilda’s Place

The City Council approved the city’s plan to apply for a $2 million federal grant to renovate Hilda’s Place and discussed John Keno & Company, Inc.’s contract for the Evanston Dog Beach ADA accessibility entrance Monday evening.

On February 20, the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity opened applications for portions of the $15 million in federal funding from the Department of Housing and Urban Developments Grant for Urban Protection for the Coronavirus.

Evanston Housing and Grants Manager Sarah Flax said the goal of this grant is to fund the construction, rehabilitation or acquisition of properties to increase the capacity of homeless shelters to pre-pandemic levels.

Two million in federal funding would go toward rehabilitating Hilda’s Place, a homeless shelter run by Connections for the Homeless. Currently, Hilda’s Place operates only as a daycare center with a capacity of 30 people since the pandemic, Flax said.

“Hilda’s Place served as a daycare center and provided vital services for people who were on the streets, homeless and just needed any kind of help,” Flax said.

Flax said the money will go toward renovating the lobby, offices and kitchen and adding a new elevator, two men’s, women’s and unisex restrooms and shower rooms and a dormitory that can accommodate up to 30 beds.

Flax said if the full award is granted, it would match U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky’s $2 million grant, announced in December 2022. This would allow the project to be completed without any local tax money, she said.

“I wish we had this opportunity to show up for anything else that came to council that cost money,” Ald. Jonathan Nieuwsma (4th) said. “We could reasonably be asked to put some Evanston resources into solving this problem, but we don’t have to because there’s federal money available so it’s a no brainer.”

Ald. Krissie Harris (2nd) questioned what would happen if the Illinois DCEO did not allocate $2 million for the renovation. She asked if there was a contingency plan if the full award is not granted since the city would not have to make up the difference. The council approved the application 6-2, with Ald. Clare Kelly (1st) and Harris disagree.

The City Council voted 5-3 to table an action on a $693,577 bid from John Keno & Company, Inc to build an ADA ramp and adjacent walkway that provided wheelchair access to Evanston’s dog beach.

Last year, Evanston Dog Beach reopened after being closed in 2016 due to rising lake levels. Initially, the beach did not have an ADA-accessible access point so the City Council approved a temporary ramp with the goal of creating a more permanent solution.

In 2020, the City Council approved a concept for a permanent walkway that connected the parking lot to the beach and was adjacent to the beach space so that only a small portion of the road was on the actual beach.

Head of engineering and capital planning firm Lara Biggs said because this design would have very little of the road on the beach, less infrastructure would be needed to withstand waves, sand and other environmental factors.

Biggs said the city-approved design is robust and can withstand many different conditions including varying sand and wave levels. She also said she is concerned that other solutions would not be able to withstand the environment.

“One of the reasons the structure we have is more expensive (is) it’s very robust. It works at different lake levels, different sand levels (and) it’s designed to be operational in a lot of different conditions,” Biggs said.

Biggs warned the city council that John Keno & Company, Inc the bid’s hold would quickly expire after the meeting, possibly resulting in a higher price for the project or a withdrawal of the bid.

Evanston resident John Kennedy prepare a slide show with a possible alternative solution for a permanent accessible point. His design took advantage of the space adjacent to the existing beach ramp and turned some boat parking into handicapped parking because it was closer to the beach.

Kennedy noted that the city’s design was 450 feet from the longest parking lot to the dog beach while his alternative design was only 107 feet. He also said the estimated cost of his option would be around $50,000.

“It’s most unfair to disabled people that we don’t explore this option. We need to explore this option,” Kelly said.

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