Two school expansions totaling more than $25 million and other construction projects top the 2013 to-do list of Lincoln Square's alderman.
Ward 47 Ald. Ameya Pawar sat down with Patch to recap 2012 and give residents a preview of the upcoming year.
Pawar is working to secure $20 million in tax increment finance funds for an annex at Coonley Elementary, which is overcrowded. In 2011, he announced another $10 million for an expansion at Bell Elementary School. Both schools are in Northcenter, which Pawar also covers.
“We were hoping to get Coonley through City Council in late 2012, but I’m confident we’re going to get this done in the next couple of months so we can break ground,” he said.
Along with Coonley, Pawar is focusing his attention on managing construction projects already underway in the ward.
The old Ravenswood hospital will complete demolition by April and make way for a new French private school. A Mariano’s Fresh Market and 150 residences will go up at Lawrence and Ravenswood avenues, and construction will start on transforming Lawrence Avenue into a more pedestrian-friendly road.
“We’re staying on top of making sure they’re on time, making sure that we’re managing the community impacts, the construction, and keeping people informed as to what’s happening,” Pawar said.
The alderman credited his staff and 12-plus office volunteers for improving response time to resident services and questions.
“If you email or call us, we’re going to get back to you within 24 hours. And then we’re going to follow up with you,” he said. “You might not like the answer we have, and I might not like the answer I’m giving you, but we’re going to follow up with you and tell you what’s happening.”
Along with office volunteers, the alderman has nearly 40 residents serving on committees on transportation, zoning and senior activism.
Those committees have led to organizations like Forward Chicago, which helps residents remain active and influential as they age in the area.
One of the alderman’s biggest challenges in 2012 came with the city’s transition to a grid trash system. Pawar said his office tried to fix issues as they came up, mostly with emptying trash in commercial corridors.
“It’s a major change, after 60-70 years picking up garbage another way,” he said. “We’ve started to figure out how to move resources around to get that done more effectively, partnering with our chambers and also asking for help from the community; don’t drop your household garbage off in the commercial corridors.”
One of the year’s highlights was in February, when Pawar passed his first piece of legislation. The ordinance added two amendments to the city’s human rights framework. Employers could no longer make hiring decisions based on an applicant’s credit history and job postings couldn’t discriminate against the unemployed.
In 2013, Pawar is concerned about citywide issues of pension reform and a casino coming to Chicago.
“I just think casinos are a bad idea. I don’t know anyone who wants to move to a city for a casino. I don’t know any city that’s actually done well after having built the casino,” he said.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel said he supported the industry making its way into city limits.
Despite the difference in opinion on casinos, the mayor and alderman both agree on pension reform: something must be done, and within the next 12 months.
The city has a $26 billion pension shortfall, with the state shortfall nearing the $96 billion mark. Illinois law mandates that in 2015, pensions must be funded to their actual payments. If lawmakers don’t reach a solution, the difference could mean a 50 percent increase in property taxes.
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