The Forest Preserve District of Cook County has set aside $25,000 in capital funding for renovations to the Cummings Memorial stage at Lake Street and Harlem Avenue.
The planned improvements are being paid from general obligation bonds, approximately $3.5 million of which is going to projects identified in the district's Recreation Master Plan.
Unveiled at a meeting of the Board of Commissioners on March 19, the plan focuses on projects aimed at supporting a "variety of safe and accessible outdoor recreational opportunities that build on the district's long history of conservation and education."
The funded improvements for the historic but rarely used Cummings stage will include adding electrical service and lighting, said Karen Vaughan, director of communications for the district.
"The final specific improvements for the stage have not been fully vetted yet as a planning process is still needed," said Vaughan. "This process will look at the entire site including the corner building and overall site landscape to ensure the stage renovations work with the other improvements."
Vaughn added that no additional funding has been identified for improvements to the stage at this time. According to the master plan, work on the Cummings stage project would be carried out in conjunction with the villages of River Forest and Oak Park.
"It's good to see that they have $25,000 in the budget to do some work there," said Mike Gibbs, a River Forest board trustee and candidate for village president, referring to the stage, which sits across the lawn from the forest preserve's general headquarters at Cummings Square.
The plan also designates $25,000 for the restoration of the park's "nature walk and interpretive panels" and another $25,000 for additional "site furnishings." Yet to be fulfilled is an estimated $125,000 for garden work in the park, according to the plan.
Named for Edward A. Cummings, a Realtor who operated a tennis club on the park grounds during the early 20th Century, the stage and "square" fell into the district's care in 1921. Today, the stage's band shell faces out toward the River Forest Town Center.
Talk of a renovation project at the Cummings stage has been in the air for a few years—and while the recent funding allocation is a sign that the district has the park on its radar, a full renovation of the stage would require a significantly larger budget.
Designs for the stage's restoration were first set in 2005, when, as part of the village's 125th anniversary celebration, an ad hoc group of volunteers raised $36,000 to see it restored. That money was deemed too short to cover the whole of the project—which was estimated to have cost between $125,000 and $800,000—and was eventually used to pay for the installation of a large clock in River Forest in 2012.
With that money now spent, the district may be the only game in town when it comes to fixing up the Cummings stage.
"I would hope that the county would continue to keep it updated and maintained," said Cathy Adduci, another trustee and candidate for village president. "Unless there are private people in River Forest that want to raise money—and that's always a possibility—I don't see the village playing a role."
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