Oak Park lands grant for Austin Gardens


Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter

By Marty Farmer

Staff Reporter

Several hundred people convened at Austin Gardens on Saturday to celebrate the announcement of several new amenities slated to debut at the park in 2015.

The Park District of Oak Park was recently notified by the Office of Gov. Pat Quinn and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources that Oak Park will receive a $400,000 matching grant from the Open Space Land Acquisition and Development Grant (OSLAD) program.

With the funds allocated by OSLAD, the park district is planning to add a 2,100-square-foot, multi-use Environmental Learning Center at Austin Gardens. The center will be host to children's nature day camps, environmental education programs for adults and children, and other community events.

The facility will include state-of-the-art energy and environmental conservation features, including a high-efficiency HVAC system, ample use of natural light and a green roof which will run off to a rain garden.

Another addition made possible by the grant will be the development of a "discovery garden" with birding scopes, nature imprints and native plantings. A social gathering area with tables for group picnics is also in the works.

At the north end of the park, habitat enhancements will be made to the wildflower area, along with the installation of interpretive signage and path system improvements.

Before making stops in Decatur and Peoria, Quinn attended Saturday's announcement along with U.S. Rep. Danny Davis, Oak Park Village President Anan Abu-Taleb, Park District board President Jessica Bullock and Park District Executive Director Jan Arnold.

"The state of Illinois believes in leaving no child inside," Quinn said in his opening remarks. "Our mission is to make sure our kids are in nature, and that we're investing in the 21st century for not only our children but everybody.

"Through the OSLAD program, it's important to understand all of us support people getting out and enjoying nature in the state of Illinois. Our allocations for helping our parks across the state will benefit 45 different park districts and entities involved with land acquisitions."

Representatives from approximately 27 park districts and forest preserve districts throughout the Chicago area also joined the celebration at Austin Gardens.

"This is a wonderful day for Oak Park," Arnold said. "Austin Gardens is a treasure. To be able to put in a learning center and add a water garden with a green roof along with several other new features and enhancements just offers more amenities to an already beautiful park.

"The complete renovation is still a few years down the road, but I'm sure people will be eager to experience the wonderful additions and improvements to Austin Gardens."

Email: marty@oakpark.com Twitter: @OakParkSports

Reader Comments

22 Comments - Add Your Comment

Note: This page requires you to login with Facebook to comment.

Comment Policy

Diana Ostreko from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: May 16th, 2013 10:02 AM

What a wonderful gift and yes, there are ways to improve some areas of this beautiful gem! Please consider though, the location and the already tranquil feel to this park, with its' quiet and graceful nature. It has literally been my backyard for 16 years, since I only live a few feet from there, not to mention it really is The Sanctuary's front yard. Each year, I eagerly look forward to the building of the stage that will hold the production(s) of the Shakespeare Festival and sit and watch the actors practice and then attend the show. But for me, that's the only interruption I want to hear or see in changes of this park. I love the old barn and I'm sure it needs to be rebuilt, but not to house classes or exhibitions. The park is too small and intimate. Let the neighbors have a say in this and PLEASE don't tamper too much with perfection. Diana Ostreko

Endangered Species  

Posted: May 15th, 2013 3:29 PM

Don't worry Marty, I get it. We need to tack on the "green" and "for the children" labels in order to justify spending $800,000 of public money on a new shed. I guess it's so expensive because they have to somehow to cram that 2100 sq feet of space onto the 800 sq ft footprint of the old shed.

Educate yourself before you post, please  

Posted: May 15th, 2013 10:50 AM

Sounds like a great idea Bruce, but the pdop doesn't own the land on lake and forest. Thank you Marty for saying what we all want to say to these whiners


Posted: May 14th, 2013 10:47 PM

Bravo! Marty. So very badly needed saying. Getting ever so tired of "environmental Luddites."

Marty Bracco from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: May 14th, 2013 10:26 PM

Oh, please! The last few posters are completely over-dramatizing the impact of a new structure in Austin Gardens. Remember, folks, it's replacing the old, obsolete, ugly shed that is ALREADY THERE!! It's footprint will be virtually identical, & will serve several needed uses...restrooms & storage for Festival Theater & some additional, appropriate educational space. Nothing is being destroyed, no existing open space is being impacted; repeat, no existing open space...the rhetoric is becoming borderline childish. Austin Gardens will remain a wonderful retreat with enhancements to make it enjoyable for generations, including the contrarians who never like an idea that's not theirs.

Stephanie Walquist  

Posted: May 14th, 2013 6:22 PM

Endangered Species and Bruce Samuels--you are right! Changing my mind--I didn't think about the impact of a building on that small park. It is a nice retreat there and plenty to discover for kids. Forest and Lake needs some love!

Bruce Samuels from Oak Park  

Posted: May 14th, 2013 4:47 PM

I've got a better idea. Why not use the $400,000 to buy kids handheld TVs so that they can watch shows about nature and leave Austin Gardens' open space alone. Or we could develop the empyt lot at Forest and Lake to be a forest of trees surrounding this proposed building.

Old school  

Posted: May 14th, 2013 12:51 PM

I nearly posted earlier but thought "am I just being too old-fashioned?" Nice to see I wasn't alone in questioning this. "No child inside." LOL Hey, let's give kids access to nature via...a building!

Almut Roberts from Oak Park  

Posted: May 14th, 2013 12:06 PM

Austin Gardens is truly a Gem. It will not be such a natural one any longer after a quiet blocky looking center will visually and space-wise destroy this gem of a natural park in Downtown OAk Park. How truly sad. My little son and I have been playing there since he was born. It is inspiring in its natural setting, which will be gone after. Will you be so considerate as to let the public decide whether they want the changes or not. It is the Oak Parkers's park, after all.

Endangered Species  

Posted: May 14th, 2013 11:23 AM

Awesome way to teach children about how nature should be treated: pave over and enclose a chunk of our precious little Oak Park green space, create an artificial heating, cooling, lighting, sanitary, and drainage requirement, and provide plastic imprints of the natural life that was obliterated in name of the "green education". Why not just turf over the whole park? After all, the park district would have us believe it's the greener alternative to grass.

Marty Bracco from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: May 14th, 2013 10:32 AM

Well stated as usual, Galen. I know the Park District has always valued it's partnership with Festival Theater. I'm pretty sure a dog run won't be part of the plan, and the new building will simply replace the current, obsolete shed. The community and Festival Theater will benefit greatly from it, but the character of Austin Gardens won't change at all. It will continue to be a passive park, and an oasis in a bustling part of town.

OP Resident  

Posted: May 14th, 2013 10:10 AM

The $400,000 matching grant from OSLAD is wonderful news. Austin Garden is a small Village treasure and could use some improvements. But could we not keep it the simple and natural oasis of tranquility which makes it so valuable and unique -- being close to downtown? Why take up it's limited space with dog runs or a 2,100-square-foot, multi-use Environmental Learning Center? Let's keep it a "garden" for residents to enjoy a few moments of quiet in a natural setting.

Park lover from Oak Park  

Posted: May 14th, 2013 9:05 AM

Austin Gardens is a quiet & beautiful oasis to have lunch or just be in nature in the middle of a busy workday for me and others. I hope this will still be the case after all the changes are made. Obviously during the construction it will be noisy :-)

Pup Lover  

Posted: May 14th, 2013 8:51 AM

I thought they would also add a dog run here.

Galen Gockel from Oak Park  

Posted: May 13th, 2013 10:54 PM

A number of years ago, the Park district's master plan for Austin Gardens did include space for Festival Theater inside a new building for storage and dressing rooms, both sorely needed. This is cited as a "matching grant" so the state's $400K must be matched by the Park Dist to the tune of $400K. Presumably the local funds will include support for Festival Theater. For many years, the Park Dist and Festival Theatre have had a cordial relationship; the theater has been an "affiliate agency"


Posted: May 13th, 2013 7:04 PM

I hope the new building will essentially replace that old wooden shack that Festival Theater uses during productions. I hope Festival Theater will have access to the building during productions. If the proposal reduces park space, I'd think twice about it.

Stephanie Walquist  

Posted: May 13th, 2013 6:20 PM

I think this is wonderful news and is the Park District that I thought we had! Kids need to have connection to nature--this way I won't have to drive out to DuPage all of the time to get my kids connected to the natural world. Hopefully the theater will also get some attention too.

Don Nekrosius from Oak Park  

Posted: May 13th, 2013 5:38 PM

The PDOP's ability to envision improvements for parks and facilities continues to show how dynamic a governmental entity can be.

Leonard Grossman from River Forest, Illinois  

Posted: May 13th, 2013 5:37 PM

This is wonderful news, but I concur in the first comment. Festival Thetre is one of Oak Park's greatest assets. Any "improvements" to the park should be consistent with OPFT's needs.

Patricia from Oak Park  

Posted: May 13th, 2013 5:11 PM

Austin Gardens is long overdue for an overhaul, but let's not overlook Festival Theatre. It has been the gem of Austin Gardens for 35 years and should be incorporated into any plans for the park. It was the intent of the Austin bequest that this park be used for the enjoyment of nature and the arts. There are plenty of parks to have a picnic, but Austin Gardens is Festival Theatre's home.

Tired of Taxes from Oak Park  

Posted: May 13th, 2013 5:09 PM

While this is wonderful news for the park, you have to wonder how the State can find money to do this when it is months behind in paying various social service providers, mostly not-for-profit organizations, and while it has such a massive pension debt.

Joyce Porter from Oak Park  

Posted: May 13th, 2013 4:52 PM

I would like to work with the P.D. to suggest ways Festival Theatre can be worked into the building.

Facebook Connect

Answer Book 2017

To view the full print edition of the Wednesday Journal 2017 Answer Book, please click here.

Quick Links

Sign-up to get the latest news updates for Oak Park and River Forest.

MultimediaContact us
Submit Letter To The Editor
Place a Classified Ad