The Benld Civic Center may be in line for a major facelift, members of the Benld City Council were told Monday night during the council’s regular monthly meeting.
Appearing before the council, retired Community Unit School District 7 administrator Ed Saracco said he recently was contacted by Rick DeStefane, who grew up in Benld and graduated from CUSD 7 in 1976, with an offer to pay for one or more civic projects in Benld. Saracco said his first suggestion to DeStephane was a landscaping project at the city library. Bids were secured and came in at $7,800.
“He said that sounded good to him and wrote a check for $7,800,” Saracco said. “Then he said, ‘What else can we do?’.”
The Civic Center is in need of renovation, Saracco said, and DeStefane has agreed to explore the option as a possibility for his investment in the community. DeStefane will have final approval on the scope of the project based upon the amount of money he is willing to donate.
To facilitate the planning process, the council voted unanimously to all photos and biographies of Benld military veterans to be “respectfully removed” to be housed at the city library, contingent upon the renovation projection going forward. Scores of 8-by-10-inch photos and biographies line the Civic Center walls. The project to collect and display photos of Benld veterans was spearheaded by the late Bill Frensko in connection with the 2004 Benld Centennial.
“I know a lot of people love the pictures but they’re not conducive to wedding receptions and such because you can’t put up decorations,” Saracco said. “If you can’t agree to removing the pictures, the project is dead. Rick said he’s not going to pay for it if the pictures are still on the walls.”
Saracco said he wanted to dispel the rumor that the photos would end up “in a box in a closet.”
“That’s not going to happen,” he said. “My dad is on that wall.” Saracco said the plan is to place the photos and biographies in protective plastic sleeves which will be collected into binders in alphabetical order. The binders would then be accessible to library patrons, along with veteran-related materials currently in storage at the library. Saracco said the arrangement, which the library board has agreed to, will make the materials more accessible to the public and will protect the photos from fading as a result of being exposed to light.
Apart from authorizing the removal of the photos, the council’s role in the project will be determining the scope of the project. Saracco said he would serve as a project manager on behalf of DeStefane, He said he would like to consult with the city’s engineers on developing the project specifications, and indicated Ald. John Balzraine, City Property Chair, will act as his liaison with the council.
Tentative plans for the project include patching and repainting the east and west walls once the veteran photos are removed. A paneled wall at the south end of the room would be replaced with a plastered wall to match the rest of the room. The bar, kitchen and both bathrooms would be completely gutted and remodeled. Bathrooms would be made ADA-compliant, as well as entry and exit doors. A “smoke-eater” that is no longer used would be removed from the ceiling and a new ceiling would be installed.
Once the scope of the project is established and bids are secured, DeStefane would have the final say on whether or not to proceed. City Attorney Rick Verticchio recommended asking DeStefane to write a check for the total project before proceeding, then holding that money in an escrow account from which to pay the bills as they accrue. Verticchio also said DeStefane will be exempt from the city’s prevailing wage ordinance since he is not using taxpayer money to pay for the work.
Mayor Jim Kelly said the city engineer has already provided a copy of building codes applicable to the project.
“I think this will make the Civic Center much more appealing for wedding receptions and maybe even baby showers,” Saracco said. He said the project should increase revenue for the city by increasing the frequency the facility is rented out for private parties, and he suggested the city may even want to increase the rental rate once the facility is improved.
“I really appreciate Rick’s offer to help the city out,” Ald. Lance Cooper commented, adding that the project has his “total support.”
ALD. FRENSKO RESIGNS
City aldermen voted unanimously to accept the resignation of Ald. Brian Frensko, effective immediately. In his letter of resignation, Frensko cited his work schedule and personal issues as reasons for leaving the council. He has been absent from regular meetings of the council for several months.
Persons interested in filling Frensko’s seat on the council should contact Mayor Jim Kelly, who will make the appointment, subject to council approval. Applicants must be residents of Ward 1. The appointee will finish the remainder of Frensko’s term which is due to expire in April 2023.
Frensko originally was appointed to fill a vacancy on the council and was elected to a two-year unexpired term in 2013. He was re-elected in 2015 and 2019.
BUILD BENLD MURAL PROJECT APPROVED
Council members also gave permission for the Build Benld organization to use one exterior wall at City Hall and one at the Post Office/Police Department for a pair of wall murals. Build Benld will contract with Sign Magic, Bethalto, to create and install the murals with the city to have final approval on wording. The estimated cost of $3,300 will be paid by Build Benld, and work on the project is expected to begin by mid-September.
The murals are intended to create a focus for future streetscape improvement projects planned for the downtown area.
GIMA PROPERTY SALE APPROVED
Following a 15-minute executive session to discuss legal issues and personnel, the council voted to accept an offer from Robert McLain to pay $500, plus delinquent property taxes, to acquire the so-called Gima Property at 207 South Seventh Street.
The council also voted to pay delinquent taxes on nuisance properties acquired by the city at 202 East Central Avenue and 303 South Seventh Street.
The council referred to the City Attorney resolution of employment status for former Benld Police Chief James Zirkelbach. Zirkelbach transferred to the Maintenance Department after the Police Department was dissolved but has been off the job for several months due to health issues. The City Attorney is expected to research and advise the city and Zirkelbach on whether he should resign or be given a leave of absence.
Council members tabled action on renewing the employee health insurance policy pending the outcome of negotiations between Blue Cross/Blue Shield and Springfield Clinic.
Karen Dmytryk, Stephanie Skeldon and Anastasia Skeldon appeared before the council to demand that the council “do something” about groundhogs they say are damaging their property. Dmytryk said the rodents are burrowing on her property, causing damage to the foundation of her home. She claimed the animals are coming from a nearby ditch and may be using drainage lines to move from place to place.
“They’re on your property,” she insisted. “They’re your problem.”
Mayor Kelly suggested that the women contact a commercial wildlife removal professional, but all three said removing the pests were the city’s responsibility.
“If you had termites in your house, you wouldn’t expect the city to take care of them,” Kelly explained, to which the women responded that the groundhogs go back to city property when they aren’t on private land.
On Verticchio’s recommendation, Kelly agreed to contact Macoupin County Animal Control to see if they can remove the animals or determine who has responsibility for removing them.
The council also heard from Gerald and Ann Lotter who engaged in a sometimes heated discussion over an ordinance violation citation they allegedly received for owning a dog running at large. Ann Lotter said the officer who issued the citation cited Gillespie’s ordinance on the ticket instead of Benld. Gerald Lotter said he was served with the citation even though he is not the owner of record for the house.
Verticchio said the matter is set for court and that the Letters would have an opportunity to explain their concerns to a judge.
“Maybe I should sue you for wrongful arrest,” an agitated Gerald Lotter said.
“Go right ahead,” said Verticchio, “Your suit will be dismissed and some lawyer, who is a friend of mine, will make money from you.”
Tim DalPozzo appeared before the council to read an extensive complaint alleging the city’s building codes were improperly approved and are being selectively enforced by the city’s Ordinance Enforcement Officer. He said the officer lacks required credentials to act as a building inspector, but Verticchio noted the city has a licensed building inspector and the officer issues citations on the basis of building inspector reports.
DalPozzo alleged the city failed to do a background check on the current Ordinance Officer, claiming the office had six lawsuits filed against him in connection with his work for the Alton Police Department.
“Nobody looked at his background,” he said. “I guess you just gave him a list of people you don’t like.”
Verticchio said DalPozzo is a defendant in a nuisance property case but recently was ordered not to “set foot on the property because he doesn’t own it.”
DalPozzo said he has a canceled check for the property purchase and that his lawyer is working on resolving the recording of the deed. In the meantime, he said, the city should “do a complete overhaul” on how it approves property ordinances.
In other action, the council:
- Accepted the resignation of Beverly Gibson from the Library Board of Trustees, and approved the Mayor’s appointment of Cathy Barylske to fill the vacancy.
- Voted to spend $1,798 for concrete pads at Veterans Park to secure picnic tables. Build Benld is contributing $500 toward the project.
- Approved expenditure $580 for new doors recently installed by Darrell Osborne at the Police Station.
- Approved an annually required prevailing wage ordinance which requires the city to hire only contractors who pay their employees prevailing wages as determined by the Department of Labor.
- Received notice that oiling and chipping of streets included in this year’s Motor Fuel Tax program will take place on Sept. 15, with a rain date of Sept. 16.
- Heard a report indicating that the water tower has been cleaned and inspected, and fire hydrant flushing will be scheduled after Gillespie flushes its water system.