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DeKalb, Sycamore park districts look toward partnerships

DeKALB – It will have to make sense – and save cents – for the DeKalb and Sycamore park districts to work together.

That's the consensus of park board members from both districts as they plan for the future. For instance, the idea of operating a joint pool with Sycamore has been voiced by some DeKalb park commissioners.

"I think the DeKalb park board is being open-minded about it, and they're interested in exploring it," said Lisa Small, DeKalb Park District's assistant director of finance and administration.

Speaking for himself, Ted Strack, the president of Sycamore's park board, said he is also interested in exploring more partnerships with DeKalb.

"I think it makes all the sense in the world to collaborate with other organizations – not duplicate services, facilities – to give the public a maximum return on their money," Strack said.

But both the DeKalb and Sycamore park districts are at different points, in terms of planning for the future.

In DeKalb board members are concerned with hiring a new executive director and replacing a 39-year-old Hopkins Pool. Former director Cindy Capek resigned May 24 after three new park board commissioners were seated and the group decided to go in a different direction.

As for the pool, the new DeKalb commissioners – Per Faivre, Don Irving and Keith Nyquist – campaigned on slowing down the process for replacing Hopkins Pool. In particular, Faivre first pushed the idea of working with Sycamore on a joint pool.

Sycamore officials have also recognized the need for a new pool, but that's as far as they've gotten. For the past few months, a group of residents, called the Community Wide Strategic Planning Team, has discussed different projects the park district could pursue.

Strack said the team has narrowed its focus to linking the city's various bike trails, building a new community center, and either upgrading the existing pool or building a new one. Sycamore's current pool is 31 years old.

As with the proposed DeKalb-Sycamore pool, a lot of these projects do not have specific costs yet, Strack said. The team divided itself into three groups and they predicted which projects they'd want to tackle and when. Each group was asked to estimate how much it would cost to do all of those projects; their estimates ranged between $12 million and $16 million.

"We didn't want to limit our discussion based on dollars initially, but it's something we have to keep in mind," Strack said.

Both the DeKalb and Sycamore park districts offer similar amenities to their respective residents. Each of them has a community center, a fitness center, a pool, at least one golf course, and various parks. DeKalb has about 680 acres of open space and park land; Sycamore has about 400 acres.

Bessie Chronopoulos, a former DeKalb mayor and current resident, has been fairly active in pushing the DeKalb Park District and other governmental entities to cooperate with each other.

"One thing that I would envision, if the two worked together and it worked out ... if it would be an indoor/outdoor kind of facility where people could use it more, rather than just two or three months out of the year," Chronopoulos said. "A variety of possibilities need to be explored before you can make up your mind."

The two park districts already collaborate through the Kishwaukee Special Recreation Association.

They also offer unique programs that are advertised in each other's program guides. Through this co-op program, DeKalb and Sycamore residents would pay the same rate for a badminton class or attend a free ice cream social, regardless of who is hosting it.

Small said the cooperation occurs on an informal basis as well, saying that she'll sometimes call other park districts when she has a problem.

"We like to think of other park districts not as competitors, but that we're all in this together as well," Small said.

AT A GLANCE: DeKalb and Sycamore park districts

• Executive director salary: $116,981 (DeKalb); $95,014 (Sycamore)

Annual expenses for fiscal 2013/2014: $7.4 million (DeKalb); $3.8 million (Sycamore)

Tax rate (2012): 0.67454 (DeKalb); 0.56251 (Sycamore)  

Age of pool: 39 (DeKalb); 31 (Sycamore)

Number of full-time employees: 22 (DeKalb); 14 (Sycamore)

Acres of open space: About 680 acres (DeKalb; about 400 acres (Sycamore)

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