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By Terry Dean
A school board meeting might not be the first place you'd expect Daniel Burnham to be mentioned. But Chicago's great planner was brought up at last Tuesday's District 97 meeting ... several times.
That was the best way school board members could describe the ambitious, and quite costly, playground project put forth by the Irving School PTO. It was an update to the board of an existing plan parents have been working on since 2008. It also included, for the first time, a preliminary cost attached—slightly more than $2 million.
"Make no little plans — they have no magic to stir men's blood" is a quote associated with Burnham, whose work includes designing the buildings for the 1893 Chicago World's Fair.
The quote came to mind and was referenced by several D97 members — who were impressed by the Irving plan — their blood obviously stirred.
The project has changed slightly in the last two years. The expansive decades-old blacktop extends along Ridgeland Avenue from Harvard Street to a row of houses just off Fillmore. The plan calls for replacing the surface with a large athletic field with artificial turf, in addition to a basketball court. Next to that, a prairie-style play yard, with walkways, grass, a "zigzagging boardwalk" and a winding deck platform.
The project also includes improving the landscaping around the building and near the main entrance on Cuyler.
The plan calls for a three-phrase implementation, with costs attached to each. The first phase is estimated at about $1.26 million, the second at roughly $623,000, and the final phase at just under $200,000.
Jassen Strokosch, an Irving parent and PTO member, said the parents aren't expecting the school district to pay for the majority of the project. Instead, they'll raise funds through private foundations, grants and reaching out to elected officials for possible state dollars. Already, the parents have about $50,000 via fundraisers.
"With or without a referendum, we knew that a significant portion would come from outside the district," Strokosch said.
But the PTO, he added, isn't looking to just beautify the area. Strokosch said the area can be used as an outdoor classroom space and seating for students. Concerning Burnham's "make no little plans" mantra, Strokosch insisted that the PTO wanted to think big about the project.
D97 board President Peter Barber was impressed with the plan but reiterated the board's long stance that the district can't afford to fund the entire project. School board members Denise Sacks and Peter Traczyk also noted the large price for the project itself.
"Those are big numbers," Traczyk said.
Irving School, 1125 S. Cuyler, has had a large blacktop for years and is the only D97 school without its own or shared green space. The PTO has already done several fundraisers, including some parents running in the 197-mile Ragnar Relay Race from Madison, Wisc., to Chicago the weekend of June 10. The parents sought sponsors from Oak Park businesses.
Strokosch added that the Park District of Oak Park is not involved in their school yard project. He said the PTO will finalize the plan and hold a public presentation for the entire community in September.