By Devin Rose
The River Forest Park District board agreed Monday to look into sharing two batting cages installed this past summer at Priory Park with its counterpart in Oak Park.
Board President Tom Cargie said an agreement could be made if there's a time period where the cages are not being used, though the board would first need to speak with River Forest Youth Baseball and Softball. Executive Director Mike Sletten said River Forest would still have priority use of the cages.
The item was added to the agenda of Monday's meeting after Jan Arnold, executive director of the Park District of Oak Park, asked Sletten if sharing could be an option, Sletten told the board.
One board commissioner with the Park District of Oak Park asked his board last month to consider reopening the master plan of Lindberg Park to allow for the addition of a batting cage. The cage at Lindberg would replace one of the tennis courts that is slated to be rehabbed at the 13.9-acre park using grant money from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
Lindberg is one of the spots that the board of Oak Park Youth Baseball and Softball is exploring to add a few cages, said one of the directors, Brian Endless. Other options include Carroll Park and Ridgeland Common Park, though the organization hasn't formally asked the park district yet.
Endless said batting cages would give his organization more practice space without using field space. Compared to neighboring suburbs, "it's one of those things Oak Park is missing," Endless said. There are currently no cages in Oak Park.
Board President Christine Graves wants to first explore collaboration options with River Forest before re-opening Lindberg's master plan, she told her board on Thursday. The board accepted the master plan in Dec. 2010 after a questionnaire was administered and four community meetings were held to collect input from the public.
Graves said the board would be "opening a big can of worms" if they re-visited master plans every time a new idea was suggested. She said there should be some sort of procedure for when and how to reopen plans that took months each to complete. Master plans are supposed to be developed every 10 years.
But board treasurer Paul Aeschleman, who requested to open the plan, said 10 years was too long to wait. The board should accommodate the park district's changing needs, he said, like sports that may be new or grow in popularity.
A little more than a year ago, a regional commissioner of AYSO asked the board to re-open Taylor Park's master plan as part of a request for a turf field there. Graves said at the time that a master plan for the whole park system needed to be created to assess each field and the sports played there.
Park district staff are working on that comprehensive assessment and a consultant will present those results to the board Jan. 28, Arnold said. Aeschleman said that study could hopefully provide some answers about what the park district needs to invest money in.
Endless said he'd be happy to work with River Forest in the short term, but with 1,700 people in his organization, sharing two cages might not be a good long term solution. His organization plans to send a letter to the Park District of Oak Park this week with some ideas about where the cages could go.
The Park District of Oak Park will discuss the matter again at its March meeting.
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