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FAQ Elder Lane + Centennial Beach September Update

Winnetka, IL; September 11, 2023 — The Winnetka Park District continues to welcome public insights, opinions, and questions regarding the Elder Lane + Centennial Beach Project. Through a host of open house sessions, “Chats with Commissioners” sessions, visits to the Park District’s tent at the Winnetka Farmers’ Market, and public comments made during board meetings, please find following a list of frequently asked questions. The Park District is happy to accept additional questions, all in an effort to inform Park District residents and other interested individuals. The Park District will conduct a second study session October 5, 2023.

Frequently Asked Questions

The Property Exchange Agreement between the Winnetka Park District and Orchard 2020 Revocable Trust was signed October 10, 2020 by each party to the agreement. The exchange of properties has yet to take place. In the event the exchange occurs, it will result in the consolidation of Elder Lane Beach and Centennial Beach – approximately 1,000 feet of uninterrupted lakefront property. Due to pending litigation the Agreement is dormant for now, but has not been cancelled.

There are three phases to the Elder Lane + Centennial Beach Project.

    1. The estimated cost for Phase One is $10,618,345, which includes a 15% contingency ($446,210) and excludes work for the Village of Winnetka stormwater discharge pipe at Elder Lane Park.
    2. The estimated cost for Phase One + Phase Two is $13,561,195, which includes a 15% contingency ($1,768,851).
    3. The estimated cost for Phase One + Phase Two + Phase Three is $18,616,935, which includes a 15% contingency of $2,428,296

For Phase One of the project, the current cost estimate is $10,618,345, which includes a 15% contingency ($446,210). The Park District’s sources of funds include approximately $4.9 million from its 2020 alternate revenue bonds + $3.0 million in a Wintrust debt certificate + $2.3 million of unrestricted recreation fund reserves + $310,000 in net proceeds from the sale of Library Park to the Winnetka-Northfield Public Library District for a total of $10,510,000. Additional funds from successful operations are available to address 100% of the contingency costs, if necessary.

The Park District plans to complete the permit application by December 1, 2023. The expectation is to send permit submittals to the regulatory agencies by December 15, 2023. Review of the steep bluff zone work by the Village of Winnetka currently is scheduled to be completed in April, 2024, at which time the Park District will submit its permit application to the Village of Winnetka. Subject to each federal, state, and local regulatory agency approving the permit application, to include the comment period with various agencies, the bid process with third party service providers will follow. Once these steps are completed, land-based construction work is expected to begin in early summer 2024, with the construction project concluding by December, 2024.

The permit process is anticipated to take approximately six months. However, it can take as long as sixteen months, depending on the agency. Key factors include the 30-day comment period, the permit pipeline/workload for each agency, etc.

Yes. Each permitting agency provides a period for the public to submit information regarding the Elder Lane + Centennial Beach Project. Notably, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and the United States Army Corps of Engineers have a minimum 30-day public comment period for regional projects. The Village of Winnetka also will accept public comment during its review the Park District’s permit application.

The Village of Winnetka Council has devoted significant time in 2023 discussing zoning, development, and engineering regulations that apply to properties within the Village that abut the lakefront of Lake Michigan.  As a result, the Village passed a number of ordinances and established a lake bluff steep slope construction study from July 6, 2023 to April 6, 2024.

The new ordinances, notably the steep slope study period, will lead to the Park District submitting its application for a permit to the Village of Winnetka in April, 2024 unless the Village completes its steep slope study period earlier than April, 2024.

The Village of Winnetka is investing time to review the storm water system and possible improvements, which includes consideration for the design of the stormwater discharge pipe currently located at Elder Lane Park + Beach, traversing under the Elder Lane pier.

Until the Village completes its review process and develops its plans for its Elder Lane stormwater discharge pipe, the Park District will not fully know how the Village’s findings will impact the proposed stormwater outfall pipe improvements that currently are part of the Elder Lane + Centennial Beach Project.  The Park District has completed a design of the stormwater discharge pipe that will improve the water quality of stormwater emptying into Lake Michigan.  The Park District’s overall breakwater construction plan allows the Village to replace and reroute its existing outflow pipe in a manner that results in a very low impact to Elder Lane Park and the park’s tree canopy.  The Park District plan proposes to build the necessary infrastructure into the proposed north breakwater at Elder Lane Beach to help reduce potential expenses to the Village if/when it opts to relocate the current Elder Lane stormwater outfall pipe in the future.

The construction process for Phase One of the Elder Lane + Centennial Beach Project is estimated to require an entire construction season. Assuming land-based construction starts in the spring of 2024, the work should be completed in December 2024. Assuming marine-based work (the large boulders are delivered to Winnetka from Wisconsin via barges traversing Lake Michigan), there is a slight chance the construction timeline for Phase One could stretch into 2025, depending on contractor availability and good working days on the water.

Yes. The Park District is considering marine-based delivery of the boulders, as well as land-based delivery of the boulders. Each construction method will be reviewed by the Park District, and it is expected the Park District will request a marine-based and land-based bid from the suppliers participating in the project bidding phase. The Park District board will review bids and approve the best, most cost-effective process for the overall project. Of note, marine-based delivery of boulders typically is more expensive than a land-based delivery, and there is a slight chance the marine-based delivery method can extend the construction timeframe due to the limited amount of marine-based working days available during a construction season.

Based on current assumptions and timelines, the Park District is planning to complete the Elder Lane + Centennial Beach Project in December, 2024. Although beaches will be open during the winter months, full shoreline programming is expected in late May, 2025.

There are many technical changes to Elder Lane Beach, including:

  • The design for the stormwater outfall pipe has been revised.
  • The geometry for the breakwater on the north side of Elder Lane Beach is now a straight row of boulders, instead of a “hook”.
  • The height of the breakwaters have been significantly lowered (more than 4’ at the bluff).
  • The beach concrete access pad for swimmers at Elder Lane Beach has been deleted.
  • An access road for patrons has been eliminated.
  • The design for the existing access road has been enhanced.
  • Boulders will be added to the existing south sheet pile groin.
  • The center breakwater spanning the 261 access cell and walkway has been deleted.
  • Planting pockets have been eliminated.

For Centennial Beach, changes include:

  • A central breakwater has been added and the southern breakwater deleted.
  • The height of the breakwaters has been significantly lowered (more than 4’ at the bluff).
  • Improvements to elements for ADA access and use.
  • A boardwalk has been added.
  • Dog beach improvements have been added.
  • Planting pockets have been eliminated.

Design costs are higher for several reasons, most notably:

  • Inflation has increased the price of materials, labor, and fuel, significantly impacting the overall project cost.
  • The previous design used more boulder breakwaters to protect the shoreline; the new plan includes more steel sheet piling to protect the shoreline. In short, steel is more expensive than rock.
  • Because of the status of the Property Exchange Agreement (holding pattern), the Park District is forced to split the breakwater design, which requires the project to be built in multiple phases, driving construction costs with multiple mobilizations and years of work.
  • The Park Board’s Request for Qualifications process to identify a coastal engineer to re-review the project and provide a new shoreline design duplicated the project’s soft costs.
  • When the Park Board voted to withdraw permit applications in June, 2022, all costs associated with that process were incurred, and only a small portion of the initial permit application process could be repurposed.  The Park District is engaged in a series of design refinements based on requests from residents; each revision carries its own cost
The proposed steel sheet piling along the bluff provides superior bluff protection. Reefs simply minimize wave energy; reefs do not protect bluffs. Breakwaters provide a more economical, effective means to protect the shoreline. While reefs are effective in reducing waves in shallow water conditions, reefs do not provide complete wave protection. Further, reef breakwaters are not designed to hold a beach. They are designed to break waves further offshore to help reduce wave energy onshore (typically placed 300′-400′ offshore). Finally, reefs pose a very significant liability hazard to boaters; reefs usually are placed near or below the water level, making the reefs a nearshore hazard to boaters.

The primary repair work for Elder Lane Park + Beach includes:

  • Installing steel sheet piling and removing damaged gabion baskets (along bluff slope).
  • Removing damaged gabion baskets and blankets (buried in the sand).
  • Repairing the Elder Lane pier.
  • Adding protection for the Elder Lane Beach House concrete foundation.
  • Removing all offshore debris.

The primary repair work for Centennial Park + Beach includes:

  • Adding steel sheet piling to stabilize the northern corner of the bluff.
  • Stabilizing access to the beach.

Similar to Lloyd Beach, the Park District is installing stone breakwaters at Elder Lane Beach and Centennial Beach to stabilize the beaches during fluctuating Lake Michigan water levels and during storms. The Elder Lane bluff will be protected by adding a steel sheet pile retaining wall. The northern corner of the Centennial bluff will be stabilized by installing a steel sheet pile retaining wall.

Referendum requirements are determined by the laws governing municipalities. Based on laws governing the Winnetka Park District, the Park District is not required to go to referendum for the Elder Lane + Centennial Beach Project. Also, a referendum is only a yes/no vote for one question. The Park District always welcomes conversation with residents regarding the project’s design elements.

This is a top priority for the Park District because of the urgent need to repair and protect the beach and bluff (a core responsibility for the Park District). The investment in the Elder Lane + Centennial Beach Project also is critical because Elder Lane Beach already has been closed for approximately three years. Suppose nothing is done to protect the bluff and shoreline at Elder and Centennial Beaches during high lake levels. In that case, further damage will be sustained at both sites, causing failures to the building and bluffs. Existing gabion baskets, intended to protect the Elder Lane bluff, already are 20 years past their expected useful life. The gabion blankets, intended to stabilize the beach, already have failed; the gabion baskets’ frayed steel represents a safety risk. More importantly, the Winnetka Park District maintains its commitment to ensure any patron of any ability has shoreline and lake access at each of its five (5) beaches. The ADA amenities designed for Centennial Park + Beach will allow a patron to travel from the parking lot along a properly pitched sidewalk to a boardwalk and ramp, where the patron can easily access Centennial Beach and Lake Michigan, and then return to the parking lot.

Since its installation in 2020, the Lloyd Beach breakwaters have successfully protected the shoreline and bluffs.

The original design for the Elder Lane + Centennial Beach Project is, in many ways, similar to the Lloyd Beach breakwater system. Differences include:

  • The installation of steel sheet piling to stabilize and protect the Elder Lane bluff and Centennial bluff (not used at Lloyd Beach).
  • A breakwater on the north end of Elder Lane Beach is required to protect the shoreline. The north end of Lloyd Beach is protected by the Stepan Family Boat Launch and a small breakwater nub.
  • Given the Property Exchange Agreement is dormant, the Park District cannot install an offshore breakwater structure between Elder Lane Beach and Centennial Beach; consequently, the Park District is using other design elements to provide proper shoreline protection. This is different than the Lloyd Beach breakwater design, which uses a breakwater in the middle of the beach to help provide shoreline protection. 

The height of the breakwaters designed for Elder Lane Beach and Centennial Beach are much lower than the breakwater located at the south end of Lloyd Beach.  For instance, at the bluff, the height of the Lloyd Beach breakwater is 591’, and 586’ at the end of the breakwater. The height of the north breakwater at the Elder Lane bluff is 587’, and 585’ at the end of the breakwater. The height of the south breakwater at the Centennial bluff is 585’, and 583’ at the end of the breakwater.

Plans are for the dog beach to be between 170′ to 270’ in length and located on the southern-most portion of Centennial Beach.  The dog beach will be fenced and gated to meet Cook County regulations.

The Park District is committed to honoring the principles of the Public Trust Doctrine. The current Elder Lane + Centennial Beach Project includes steps up and over the breakwater on the north end of Elder Lane Beach, as well as steps up and over the breakwater on the south end of Centennial Beach. These design elements allow visitors to traverse the shoreline according to the principles of the Public Trust Doctrine.

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