By Marty Farmer
The Park District of Oak Park held a community meeting on Jan. 21 to revisit the Carroll Park Master Plan from 2005 and share ideas about future improvements for the park, located in the southwest quadrant of Oak Park. Currently, Carroll Park features a large green field, a baseball diamond, tot lot and playground. The nearby Carroll Center hosts a variety of park district programs for children and adults.
After a brief introduction from Executive Director Jan Arnold at the Jan. 21 meeting, John MacManus and Josephine Bellata of Altamanu, the park district's landscape architecture/urban design/planning firm, led an hour-and-a-half-long slideshow presentation and discussion about Carroll Park.
The multipurpose meeting reviewed the 2005 Carroll Park Master Plan, including community recommendations from residents, along with the portions accomplished to date and the next phase of improvements to Carroll Park (adjacent to Lincoln Elementary School).
"The meeting went well," said Diane Stanke, director of Marketing and Customer Service for the park district. "Although we didn't have a huge turnout, some key interests were represented, including neighbors, historic preservation, the baseball association and District 97. The crowd in attendance provided useful feedback to the consultants from Altamanu. Each area of the park was discussed and many good ideas were shared."
During the 2005 master plan process, several focus groups and community meetings were held and subsequent voting three times on six possible schemes.
Residents expressed concerns about a need to replace the playground, no North-South walking path, constructing a new and relocated Carroll Center, and needed improvements regarding ballfields, lighting, sightlines and overall safety within the park.
At a cost of $370,000, the Phase 1 construction recommendations were successfully carried out, such as relocation of the turnaround and a relocated/updated playground, which both moved east. Also, a new tree-lined path through the park (which set off the school playground from the ballfields and allowed for more seating, wider fields and extra green space), enhanced lighting for safety purposes, and improved drainage under the playground were added.
Originally designed by Oak Park architect John Van Bergen, the Carroll Center has always been a point of emphasis in the park. During the 2005 planning process, residents stated they would like to see a new and relocated Carroll Center. While this objective is currently outside construction funding, the long-term goal of attaching the new recreation center to Lincoln Elementary remains a strong possibility.
At last month's meeting, the next phase of continuing improvements to Carroll Park was discussed, utilizing additional community recommendations from the 2005 Master Plan as a launch point.
Those additional recommendations include a path around the park with distance markers for school and residents, a new entry in the northwest corner of the parcel, improved field conditions with an irrigation system, "field box" storage for baseball supplies, all baseball facilities installed to a high standard of design, and the possibility of an outside classroom.
"The most important items over the long haul are to identify specifically what the current and next generation of park users need, and sort out what can be afforded and sustained," said Mike Grandy, parks superintendent of Buildings & Grounds. "Every amenity installed in a park site requires maintenance.
High-quality materials, good engineering, and proper maintenance will result in sites that are safe and that can be operated efficiently and economically."
The park district purchased two properties on Kenilworth Avenue. Potentially, the additional land could provide amenities such as a new entry, bigger fields, and an area for batting cages, extra green space as well as other uses.
Added Grandy: "When the parks need renovation, we must bring them up to date, or they will not fulfill the needs of the community."
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