36th Ward participatory budget vote





by BRIAN NADIG

Repairs to the sports field at Steinmetz Prep High School and playground improvements at Reinberg and Chicago Academy schools were among the winning infrastructure projects in the participatory budget vote in the 36th Ward.

Alderman Gilbert Villegas’ director of policy Justin Heath said that the field at Steinmetz, 3030 N. Mobile Ave., is "bumpy," posing a safety threat to students. "Currently the soccer team and the football team do not practice there," he said.

About $75,000 of city funds will go to the project. The school also has received a $50,000 grant from Cubs Cares for field improvements, Heath said.

Seven of the city’s 50 aldermen hold a community vote on how to spend most of their ward’s annual allotment of $1.32 million of discretionary funds. The participatory budget process began in Chicago in 2009, and it was first used in the 36th Ward last year.

"We like PB so much because it is democratic and let’s people really have the voice," Heath said. This fall 1,070 residents in the 36th Ward voted, an increase of 35 percent from last year.

The funds must be used for infrastructure improvements, and in some instances other agencies, such as the Chicago Park District, may pay for a portion of a project.

Other winning allocations include $100,000 toward a new surface for the playground at Reinberg, 3425 N. Major Ave., and $100,000 for playground improvements at Chicago Academy, 3400 N. Austin Ave.

In addition, $100,000 will be used to create a multi-use play area and to resurface the tennis courts at Bell Park, 3020 N. Oak Park Ave., $30,000 will be used to repair the basketball court at Blackhawk Park, 2318 N. Lavergne Ave., and $50,000 will be used for crosswalk and other safety improvements near several schools in the ward.

Residents also approved traffic improvements in the Hermosa neighborhood, including new stop signs and the installation of a cul-de-sac.

The improvements were "bundled" on the ballot with the school and park projects due to concern that the traffic items would have a difficult time getting approved on their own because the ward covers only a portion of Hermosa, limiting the number of residents eligible to vote from that community, Heath said. There was a consensus that "we win together and lose together" regardless of ward boundaries, he said.

Residents also approved allocating $550,000 of the ward’s funds for resurfacing side streets, covering about 10 blocks.

Projects that did not receive enough votes include $130,000 for the installation of diagonal parking near two churches and $75,000 for left-turn arrows at the intersection of Oak Park and Grand avenues. Efforts will be made to identify other funding sources for the projects that were not approved, and they could be eligible for next year’s ballot, Heath said.

A mural project did not win last year, but a private donor later volunteered to cover the expenses, Heath said.

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