Several West Central Illinois municipalities recently received Illinois Department of Natural Resources grants to upgrade their parks and recreational opportunities.
At the heart of many of the local projects is engineering firm Benton & Associates. The man who has a specialty in recreational engineering and design is Greg Hillis. Hillis is the face of the firm at several area board meetings to help get the projects off the ground.
Hillis says its a pleasure to work with local government officials to inject money back into communities and provide fun and entertainment for everyone to enjoy: “None of these grants could have been won or awarded if it wasn’t for the great community support and the councils that we have been involved with. Of course, DNR has been a great contributor to these ongoing grants over the years. It’s been great because I’m the lucky one here at the office and get to work with these projects. I kind of look at it as putting the fun in the communities. It’s not always about water and sewer projects here at Benton & Associates, and I’m the lucky one who gets to work with all of these communities on this.”
Hillis, who is a native of the White Hall area, says he was glad he got to work on the project to bring updates to Custer Park and the White Hall Rez. He says the city will be utilizing their over $242,000 OSLAD grant to make significant updates to those two places in White Hall: “They are going to be putting in a new kayak launch, a walking trail, some ADA-compliant parking, a disc golf course, a new concession stand out there, and some boat parking. White Hall did apply for a grant a year ago, and unfortunately, they did not get it. They did reapply. We did some updating and enhancements to their grant application, and they did get it this time. They had a certain amount of money they wanted to set aside for these updates.”
Hillis says he was disappointed when the original grant didn’t go through last year, because it was his first time in having to reapply for a grant that he had worked on in over 8 years. He says he was glad to help bring those updates to his hometown.
Hillis says he was also a part of the updates coming to the Village of Bluffs’ downtown park. Hillis says since Bluffs was designated as a distressed community that they received a full grant of $600,000 to utilize at the park with no need for matching funds. He says that includes upgrading electricity infrastructure, ADA parking and bathrooms, a pickleball court, and other amenities.
Covid-19’s supply chain issues caused prices and material acquisitions to cause problems for recreation projects over the past 3 years. In some cases, budgets ballooned beyond their projections and some projects were slowed, scaled back, or ground down to a halt. Hillis says that he is seeing some daylight on the acquisition of materials to see these projects through to the end, much like the work he’s done for the Winchester Pool, North Park in New Berlin, and the Beardstown Marina campsite. Hillis says that he is currently getting the work going for the Jacksonville Pool at Nichols Park, the Roodhouse Rez, Union Park in Auburn, and the Mt. Sterling pool. He says there is some tightening on budgets, but they are managing to stay within most projects’ means as the Covid issues subside: “We’re noticing some of the prices are coming down – not a lot, but a little bit. We are starting to see some of the materials coming a little more readily available such as pool construction materials and equipment. Pools are the longest lead item for parts and pieces. I can’t explain why and no one can tell me, even for the prices. At least when we put in these last grants, we did have some, we hope, better pricing because we’ve just finished up some other grants that did come in over budget. Unfortunately, we did have to do some maneuvering around, which is usually not a great council meeting, but we try to put our best foot forward. We’re thinking that we’re starting to see a little light at the end of the tunnel.”
Hillis says writing of the grants, which Benton & Associates also handles for municipalities, can be lengthy and tenuous but they are always grateful to do it so communities who might not have the opportunities to upgrade their recreational opportunities can do so with their help. Hillis says he’s looking forward to getting the shovel in the ground on the many recreation projects across the region.