Wilmette, News

Wilmette Park Board Notes: $5 million worth of bonds, autonomous lawnmowers and return of Star Spangled Splash

Park commissioners held a public hearing April 8 to solicit feedback on the district’s plan to sell $5.5 million worth of bonds. 

The hearing was not a formal vote on the board’s proposal, thus no final action on the matter was taken at the meeting.

According to Wilson, the park district’s intent is to issue the bonds in May, and officials are set to continue their discussions regarding the terms and structures of the bonds during their April 15 committee of the whole meeting. 

The park district has legal authority to issue what district documents describe as a “limited dollar amount of tax supported bonds before conducting a referendum to issue an amount in excess of the current limit.” Per Wilson, the proposed amount of bonds is within the limit. 

Park officials have yet to publicly state their plan to use the more than $5 million but Wilson said in a memo to park commissioners that similar bonds have “historically been used to help the District manage the overall finances of the District in and around ongoing capital needs and/or specific projects.” 

The district last issued similar bonds in 2022, according to Wilson, who also noted that bonds are ultimately repaid via property tax dollars.

The notice of public hearing posted by the district states the $5.5 million will go toward the “payment of land condemned or purchased for parks, for the building, maintaining, improving and protecting of the same and the existing land and facilities of the district and for the payment and expenses incident thereto.”  

The bond issuance comes while the Wilmette Park District negotiates with Beth Hillel Congregation Bnai Emunah to acquire the Wilmette synagogue’s nearly 5-acre campus, as previously reported by The Record. 

Wilson previously told The Record the two organizations have agreed in principle to several terms, but a formal contract would need approval from the Wilmette Park Board. The contract has not yet appeared on a Park Board agenda and it is not clear if the bond proceeds will support a land purchase.

Autonomous lawnmowers may play through

An autonomous lawnmower on the golf course. | Photo from Wilmette Park District

The Wilmette Park District is teeing off an initiative that it hopes will trim up its golf course operations through cutting-edge technology.  

Executive Director Steve Wilson said during the Park Board’s Monday, April 8 meeting that the district is currently testing autonomous mowers at Wilmette Golf Club. 

“They’re basically oversized roombas that cut grass,” Wilson told commissioners

The park district started what Wilson described as a “demonstration period” for the mowers on April 8. The initial test “went very well,” Wilson said.

“It was a very controlled, very conservative test and we’ll continue honing in on their performance,” he added. “But so far, so good.” 

The mowers are unmanned cutting units that are controlled by GPS, Wilson said in a memo to commissioners included in the meeting’s agenda materials. The machines run on batteries instead of gas and do not require a person to directly operate them, Wilson added. 

Park officials hope that the mowers will provide “a more sustainable approach to turf maintenance at the golf course. Additionally, officials believe the units could “reduce the stress on staffing levels and responsibilities.”  

Per Wilson, the mowers have been “thoroughly vetted by staff for safety and will be closely monitored further for safety as well as overall performance during the demonstration period.” 

Wilson told The Record via email that the park district is currently using six mowers during the demonstration period. It’s not yet determined how many will be used if the testing period is successful. 

“Depending on their performance, that will inform not only if we want to employ this technology, but also how many we would want to have to properly maintain the golf course,” Wilson said. 

The demonstration period will last approximately one month, per Wilson. The park district will decide how to move forward and determine “if this is something we employ partially or fully this year, or if it is something we wait to implement next year after we can properly budget acquiring the necessary equipment,” Wilson said. 

According to Wilson, it’s too early in the process for the park district to decide if it will use the technology at any of its other properties.

Star Spangled Splash to return in 2024

The spring season is barely underway but there’s already an eye toward the hallmark of summer in Wilmette. 

The park district’s Star Spangled Splash is set to return in 2024 as part of Wilmette’s July 3 celebration, according to a memo from Superintendent of Recreation Dave Merrill. 

As previously reported by The Record, the park district launched the family friendly event last year as a new addition to its Independence Day festivities. The event featured games, activities and entertainment and was similar to early afternoon festivities that the park district used to host at Gillson Park prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Officials are pushing the start time back this year to 1 p.m. Attractions are secured and supplies for the events will be ordered soon, Merrill said in his memo.

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martin carlino
Martin Carlino

Martin Carlino is a co-founder and the senior editor who assigns and edits The Record stories, while also bylining articles every week. Martin is an experienced and award-winning education reporter who was the editor of The Northbrook Tower.

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