McHenry council considers going back to voters for another rec center expansion request

Cost since failed 2018 referendum up 20%

In 2018, McHenry voters overwhelmingly said no to a referendum question seeking $30 million in bonds to expand the city’s recreation center.

On Monday night, parks and recreation director Bill Hobson laid out to the McHenry City Council why the March 2024 primary ballot might be the time to ask again.

“Some of our conditions have not gotten any better,” Hobson said.

Those conditions include that of the Merkel Aquatic Facility at Knox Park on Green Street a few blocks from the McHenry Recreation Center. That outdoor pool is more than 30 years old and needs “costly upgrades in the coming years simply to remain open,” Hobson wrote in his report to the council.

Even if the city made those upgrades, the pool is undersized for McHenry’s current needs, he said.

Costs also have risen. The same recreation center addition proposed in 2018 for $30 million likely would cost $36 million now, Hobson said.

The plans are based on a “statistically valid survey” of resident wants, Hobson said.

That survey, completed before the 2018 referendum, indicated that 38% of residents put outdoor aquatics as their top priority, and 60% said indoor aquatics. Indoor walking paths came in at 40%.

There are no indoor walking tracks for residents, the indoor pool at McHenry High School’s Upper Campus is only open for swim team practice and winter swimming lessons, and programs held at schools compete with the two school districts’ needs for those spaces, Hobson said.

McHenry Mayor Wayne Jett asked Hobson at Jett’s State of the City address in September to give a preview of what an expanded recreation center could look like.

After that event, Alderwoman Sue Miller said, several of those in attendance asked her about the plans and seemed excited about the possibility.

The current McHenry Recreation Center, across the parking lot from City Hall, opened in 2016 and was built with $4 million in developer donations collected and saved over the years.

That building was designed for future expansion, including an outdoor pool and water park, indoor pools and a gym with a suspended walking track.

At its height, the rec center had about 2,400 members. That number is down to about 1,200, with 15% being seniors and 70% McHenry residents, Hobson said.

Alderman Andy Glab said he doesn’t believe “many people that don’t use the rec center [would] vote yes for something like this,” but said the issue should go to referendum.

If the city wants the referendum on the March primary ballot, the question must be certified to the McHenry County clerk by Jan. 2, Hobson said.

The council either would have to vote to place the question on the ballot at the Dec. 18 meeting or hold a special meeting before the January deadline.

Hobson said he and a consultant are working on finalizing the bond request amount, but he brought the question to the council Monday because of the time crunch.

If approved by voters, he believes the expansion could open in May 2026.

Voters may be more amendable to a recreation center expansion because of COVID-19 and the realization that there were not a lot of recreation opportunities locally, Miller said.

“People want to have recreation opportunities near home,” she said, adding that “people want to live, work and play where they live. This is an opportunity to serve the public.”

A photo previously posted with this story showed police vehicles near the home in McHenry where the police activity took place. To clarify, the house shown in the photo was not involved in the police activity and not where the related arrests were made.