Original story written for The Record Northshore by Peter Kaspari on May 17th. A link to the original article may be found HERE. Image credit to Teska Associates
A major road construction project in Northfield will stay on schedule despite a funding setback, and the Village will explore alternative design elements, according to a discussion among trustees on Tuesday, May 16.
The project, which will rework Happ Road from Winnetka Avenue to Willow Road, is currently in the design phase and expected to go to bid in 2024. Officials project actual work to begin in 2025.
Village Manager Stacy Sigman told trustees Tuesday that while the construction is fully funded, the funding will not cover the more “decorative project enhancements,” such as plantings, enhanced traffic signals and pedestrian lights, and the area surrounding a planned roundabout at Happ and Orchard Lane.
To cover those costs, Sigman said the Village applied for Main Street and Illinois Transportation Enhancement Program grants; however, she said the Village was not selected for the grants.
“I think we were very surprised, because our project has, in all other grant applications, been a top candidate,” she said.
Further complicating the matter, Sigman said she was informed that the ITEP grant will not be offered this year, and the earliest the Village could apply for it again would be 2024, with the decision coming in 2025, coinciding with the project’s proposed start date.
With that in mind, Sigman said Village staff provided the Village Board with an overview of all the enhanced elements for the project, not only breaking down the cost, but also asking if any of them should be deferred.
Signman also sought guidance on if any of the design elements should be taken off the table.
But following the presentation from landscape architect Jodie Mariano, with Teska Associates, of Evanston, and project engineer Jarrod Cebolski, with Patrick Engineering, of Chicago, trustees expressed a desire to continue moving forward and did not remove any of the items from the plans.
Village President Greg Lungmus said he’s “optimistic that we’re going to get grant funding,” and said there are other options available to the trustees, including the Village reserves.
Additionally, Sigman said that in the days leading up to the meeting on Tuesday, Lungmus reportedly secured $200,000 from State Rep. Jonathan Carroll that she said can be put toward any capital project.
During Tuesday’s meeting, the only proposed design element that concerned trustees was a fountain planned for the center of the roundabout.
At a projected $760,000, the fountain is the most expensive proposed design feature.
Trustee Barnaby Dinges said the cost is not his primary concern, but he believes there are better options available for a centerpiece. He said he would prefer something “much smaller and lighter and less stone.”
“Pie in the sky, I would support most everything but that (fountain), and would wonder if maybe we could raise public funding for a really cool piece of art,” he said.
Cebolski said artwork is discouraged by Cook County because of concerns that it might encourage people to take pictures with it.
“They don’t want people to cross the circular roadway,” he said.
Trustee Tom Whittaker said that while he “love(s) the design,” he also believes that a fountain will still attract people to the center of the roundabout.
“My thought is definitely keep some sort of a structure like this,” he said. “But maybe instead of actually having a fountain, maybe create some sort of lush gardens.”
Following the board’s feedback, Mariano said she would return with alternate designs and cost estimates for a planter in place of a fountain.
Resident asks trustees to allow for recall of public officials
The actions of Village President Greg Lungmus continue to be a topic of community comments at public meetings.
In January, Lungmus got into an altercation with an Amazon delivery driver. While no charges were filed, police were called to the scene.
Lungmus has acknowledged his actions but has refused to apologize.
For the second Village Board meeting in a row, Lungmus’ actions were brought up during public comment, with resident Gavin Blunt asking trustees to adopt a policy for recalling public officials.
“It’s time for accountability, for restoration of decades of board integrity,” he said.
Speaking for nearly 10 minutes, Blunt criticized Lungmus for his actions and said they’ve “cause(d) a huge issue for this village,” and called his lack of an apology “unbecoming.”
He also criticized Lungmus’ questioning of the board as he attempted to determine if any of them reported the incident to the media.
Blunt further went on to say the Northfield Village Board is “dysfunctional” and said that some of the behavior he’s seen at recent meetings is “not acceptable in Northfield.”
“There must be honesty and transparency established once again by earning back the trust of this community,” Blunt said.
Lungmus did not respond to Blunt’s comment.