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By Terry Dean
Oak Park School District 97 hopes to remove some of the black asphalt at Irving School next summer.
It's a move that's long overdue for many parents who have wanted that blacktop removed for years. The Irving PTO has been working on an ambitious plan for the site, located on a large stretch of land along Ridgeland Avenue from Harvard Street to a row of houses just off Fillmore.
With estimates just north of $2 million, their eco-friendly plan includes a large soccer field, sprawling green spaces and playground space that could be used for physical education activities.
The District 97 Board of Education and the Park District of Oak Park both support the plan. D97, meanwhile, has firmly committed half a million toward the project. The park district has not committed any funds just yet. D97's landscape architect, Chicago-based Altamanu, presented a plan at the school board's Oct. 30 regular meeting to add a playground and possibly a soccer field to the space. The work would be scheduled for next summer.
D97 members did not approve the plan at the meeting — the board's practice is to take action at a later meeting after first hearing and deliberating on a recommendation.
John McManus of Altamanu suggested focusing on improving the existing playground or building a new one. Adding a turf field and refurbishing the school's parking lot are also possibilities for next summer. Renovating the current playground is estimated to cost about $180,000. A new playground, including the addition of a rubberized surface, would total roughly $383,000. The district upgraded several playgrounds last summer with rubberized surfaces.
The addition of a turf field at Irving is estimated at roughly $522,000. McManus said removing and carrying away the asphalt would incur its own cost. D97 Supt. Albert Roberts said he wanted to get rid of the blacktop when he first arrived in the district in 2010 but held off as the PTO was working on its own plan.
The parents have raised about $100,000 toward their project. Members of the group, as well as Irving teachers, attended the Oct. 30 meeting to urge the board to help fund the project and start some construction next summer.
Ellyn Gullo, a 34-year teacher at the school, said the faculty supports the schoolyard project.
"We would love to have a schoolyard that is safe for our students and accessible for our students of all abilities. We all agree that the asphalt that is covering our playground is very dangerous. And we want a safe environment that promotes wellness for our students," Gullo said.
Barbara Hoffman, a parent of two Irving students, said the main highlight of the schoolyard plan is safety.
"Please remove as much of the asphalt as possible and install a multipurpose field and rubberized surface for our students," she said. "We know you are committed to this goal."