Officials discuss potential need for generators

Marc Edwards and Luke Smucker

Concerns about the lack of a generator at the Rec-Center surfaced following last weeks' power outage that shut down large portions of Pontiac.

The situation was briefly addressed during Monday night’s City Council meeting, as City Hall, the Pontiac Recreational Center and Pontiac Township High School, amidst hosting the Pontiac Holiday Tournament, were all victims of power outages.

One note of concern was the outage at the Rec-Center, which is the primary facility to use as a "warming center," if residents or motorists are forced to seek shelter during inclement weather. The Illinois National Guard Armory on Reynolds Street is the secondary site.

City Administrator Bob Karls indicated since the Rec-Center was built, there have been no generators in place.

"When the community center was built, we moved the lodging from the armory," said Karls. "We had looked at providing a generator, but the cost, at the time, was deemed too high for that large of a facility."

Karls said the city is working with Pontiac City Emergency Services and Disaster Area on a plan to make sure the Rec-Center is not in the same situation as it was last week.

“We are looking at the possibility of zoning it off and providing smaller generators," Karls said. "This has been an ongoing discussion for many years."

Karls said otherwise, the city was prepared for the ice storm.

"That's not to say that something like that can't happen again for a larger duration of time," said Karls. The Dec. 26 storm resulted in a four-hour power outage.  "We are going to re-evaluate it (the generator issue) and we are continually doing that," he added.

Jerry Hayner, director of Parks and Recreation Department, said the Rec Center has no backup generator in place. He said in the past the Rec Center has borrowed a generator from the city's Wastewater Treatment Department, but that's about it.

The problem was that during this storm, the Water Treatment Plant needed the generators to help keep its own systems running throughout that first day when the Vermilion River was rising into moderate flood water levels.

“We've had a generator in the budget proposal for years,” Hayner said. “But it never got past budget cuts.”

The power outage also caused the Holiday Tournament to be cancelled for the remainder of the first day, forcing the tourney to end one day later on New Year's Eve. The school lost power again the morning of the second day, but after less than two hours power returned and play resumed.

Pontiac Township High School Superintendent Jon Kilgore said the high school does not have a back up generator either.

“We feel that the type of generator that would be needed to run a facility like the high school, or the Rec Center, would be extremely cost prohibitive in comparison to the number of times we would use it,” Kilgore said. “During the Pontiac Holiday Tournament, when the lights went out, for us to invest in a generator to cover that would cost tens of thousands of dollars, some have even speculated more than $100,000. I don't have any specific quotes, but we've only had one other disruption during the holiday tournament and that was during World War II.”

In case of another power outage, Kilgore said the tournament officials have a back up plan to restore power, but using taxpayer money to cover the very few times that such a situation occurs does not seem fiscally responsible.

“The cost for a generator for our school to run during a power outage, with everything that is needed, would just cost too much,” Kilgore said. “Maybe a new building, if you were building a new school, but to retrofit something like that would just cost an enormous amount.”