The River Forest Park District board has raised serious concerns regarding proposed details of the River Forest 125th Anniversary Committee's planned renovation and restoration of the E.A. Cummings Memorial. The newly constituted park board held its first regularly scheduled meeting Monday night and a draft proposal for the renovation of the Cummings Memorial, released by the firm of Antunovich and Associates, was the subject of pointed concerns and at times outright dismay.
Tuesday morning, a distressed 125th Anniversary Chairperson Laurel McMahon responded that any current proposals are just that, proposals, and very preliminary proposals at that.
"This is in no way the final plan," said McMahon. "It hasn't been discussed or adopted by our committee."
The draft proposal calls the long-neglected Cummings Memorial "an important historic marker for the Village of River Forest." Some park commissioners, however, were calling the memorial "that concrete thing," and vowing that any eventual renovation would not require the removal of a ball diamond currently located in the southwest corner of the park, located at Bonnie Brae and Lake Street. After a half-hour discussion, the board agreed to have Board President Steven Dudek send a letter to Village President Frank Paris requesting his presence as well as McMahon's at the park district's next board meeting. Paris was reportedly out of town and unavailable for comment Tuesday morning. But McMahon made it clear that such a discussion was just fine with her. The last thing anyone wants, she stressed, is to remove an asset that village residents value.
"It's not our intention to ever [formally] propose anything that the whole community can't get behind," she said.
According to the draft proposal, the proposed Cummings project would proceed in three phases?#34;the repair and stabilization of the existing Cummings Memorial, restoration of the band shell and other "lost components," and general site improvements. It is the second and third phases of the work?#34;the restoration of lost components and site improvement?#34;which might affect the ball diamond in the southwest corner of the park. One of the original elements of the Cummings Memorial was a sunken, graded seating section. The reinstallation of that element would likely leave inadequate room to safely maintain a ball diamond.
Of particular concern to the park board is the fact that the park district has no formal intergovernmental agreement with the Forest Preserve District, which owns the property.
"It was a handshake agreement," said Park Executive Director Tom Grundin Monday.
"I don't believe there was ever a contract," former park board president Kevin Collins said Tuesday. "We [improved the field] and maintained it. That was the deal."
"There was no kind of permanent agreement that would be binding on the Forest Preserve," agreed former park board vice president Patrick Deady.
McMahon emphasized that Paris has made it clear in the past that he will not support the removal of the ball diamond.
The possible loss of the ballfield was just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak. Park commissioners expressed a litany of other concerns.
"What else about this [plan] bugs you?" new board member Ron Steele asked his fellow commissioners. The answer, apparently, was "plenty," ranging from minor details to concerns of major obligations.
Dudek noted with some dismay that the total cost of the project would be around $600,000, and expressed doubt that the 125th Anniversary committee could raise that much money on its own.
"I don't think they can come up with enough money to make it go," he said. Any shortfall, he said, would likely have to be made up by governmental bodies, and that was something he said in which the park board had no interest in being involved.
The 125th Anniversary group, Steele contended, was "trying to set up [the park] as they want it before trying to pass it off," most likely to the park board. Steele also seemed to touch on an overarching issue when he said that the proposed plans would "dictate the future use of that open space."
Other commissioners were equally concerned about mundane but critical details, such as a lack of bathrooms, inadequate parking, and the site being adjacent to Harlem Avenue.
McMahon said those concerns and others are all part of an ongoing dialogue.
"All of those concerns have been raised, and all of that is under discussion between the village and the Forest Preserve," she said. "We are still in the process of seeing what fits in the community, and what doesn't."