Roughly $2 million to replace Irving Elementary School's blacktop

PTO to raise money, turn blacktop into green space


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By Terry Dean

Staff reporter

Click here to see some of the proposals for Irving's blacktop.

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.


Irving School Yard Renderings

Reader Comments

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OP parent (irving parent)  

Posted: July 5th, 2011 4:13 PM

If you've driven by the school you can see that the blacktop yard faces Ridgeland and makes the building (which is lovely) look unfriendly and ugly. The heat rising from the blacktop makes the third-story rooms a furnace on sunny days (over 100 F often) Replacing the heat sink with something pleasant will benefit the entire neighborhood and improve property values. The playground equipment is old, some unsafe. The plan is gorgeous, but no matter what - D97 has to do something here.


Posted: July 2nd, 2011 4:12 PM

My mistake, this was already mentioned: Clearly, I'm behind. =-p I wasn't in favor of the tax hike, but I do support giving the playgrounds a make over.


Posted: July 2nd, 2011 9:55 AM

The Irving parents and D97 board have also talked about possibly using some district funds. ......How much from the district and how much from grants and foundations? Just a ballpark would be suffice.

Adele from OP  

Posted: July 2nd, 2011 8:46 AM

@Bruno...I think it's the last sentence in the article that is generating the use of CAPS.

Bruno Christi from Oak Park  

Posted: July 2nd, 2011 8:33 AM

Please read all the words in the article before bringing out your all caps and punctuation marks about your tax bill. Particularly the words "foundations" and "grants."

Taxpayer Enraged from from Oak Park  

Posted: July 1st, 2011 8:21 PM

TWO MILLION for "Outdoor education space." What a crock, an absolute crock. My tax money is to be spent on reading, writing, arithmetic, but NOT for "outdoor education space." NO TAX MONEY...NONE...NONE.


Posted: June 30th, 2011 6:04 PM

One question: how much money does Irving PTO presently have saved for this project? Last I heard, very little. True? Also, if I recall correctly, I stated that the Irving plan would cost several million. Many ref supporters then responded and, my translation, informed me of the deficiencies in my mental abilities. Not requesting an apology, but I will state that this has always been a bit extreme of a plan for me - with a questionable goal. Very expensive plan to improve math/reading skills.

Jeana Reisig  

Posted: June 30th, 2011 1:19 PM

Kudos to the parents at Irving for all of the grant writing and other fundraising they've done to get themselves the greenspace they deserve and bring their school's outdoor learning space into alignment with all the other schools in the district. Nice job taking ownership with amazing parent participation. You guys deserve this.

Jassen Strokosch from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: June 30th, 2011 11:11 AM

As always, a lively discussion at the WJ. For those who want to learn more about this project, you can checkout the website or our Facebook page, the latest info and to answer many of your questions. Thanks to all the hard working volunteers that have gotten this project as far as we have.


Posted: June 30th, 2011 8:21 AM

Irving was the most mobilized school/voter turnout because D97 said no playground money if the referendum did not pass. So yes, all of Oak Park is being philanthropic to the tune of 5 million a year so Irving parents can get their one time 250k from D97.


Posted: June 30th, 2011 7:06 AM

I have no doubt some taxpayer money will be used for this, but not even close to the amount put in the headline. The referendum allowed for some extremely overdue deferred maintenance on the school grounds, and Irving is due as much as the other schools. They shouldn't be penalized because they are an involved and active community.


Posted: June 30th, 2011 12:18 AM

Isn't Julian's former green space... under the new building? The Irving play ground is trashed. If not for reasons of beauty, there are a couple of safety issues there for sure. Holmes is having some work done on their playlot. How much will that cost? Where is that money coming from? Where are the complaints about it? Some actually believe that spending tax dollars on playlots and green spaces is a good cause.

I read it closely (and have you?) from OP  

Posted: June 29th, 2011 10:10 PM

@ jo: So, as long as no taxpayer dollars are used, we're good. As soon as they go to the Board, I will personally send them complaints. And wasn't there some "outdoor education space" language in the referendum? @ Mel Rose: Then you're personally assuring us all that no other school os going to ask for an upgrade? Didn't I hear Julian wants their former greenspace (now dirt/mud pit) replanted?

Grandma from Oak Park  

Posted: June 29th, 2011 10:10 PM

If you've ever visited Irving you've seen a dynamic student/teacher/principal atmosphere inside a building surrounded by ghetto-type blacktop. I've often wondered if the well-endowed PTO's, who have "everything" in their schools, have ever considered the valuable lessons their students might learn were some "philanthropic" sharing to take place from one end of OP to the other. :-) Contributing toward such a worthy effort in "south" Oak Park might just become a source of great satisfaction.

Mel Rose from Oak Park  

Posted: June 29th, 2011 9:48 PM

Every other Elementary School in Oak Park HAS green space....this is the ONLY school in OP that has does not...there is no need to pass the hat, this is a singular issue.


Posted: June 29th, 2011 9:46 PM

I wish people would read past the headlines and take off their tin-foil hats. Irving has been doing massive fund-raising for this, as well as grant-writing, for YEARS.

And the cycle begins again from Oak Park  

Posted: June 29th, 2011 9:43 PM

If tax dollars are spent on this, just wait for the other schools to line up to get theirs. Then we taxpayers can wait for the district to cry poor again and another referendum cycle to begin. Stop acting like the children of Irving live in an inner city blacktop jungle. The playground isn't optimal...get over it!

Mel Rose from Oak Park  

Posted: June 29th, 2011 8:51 PM

This discussion has gone on for many many is wrong that these students do not have green space! I applaud the work and diligence the parents have taken to make this a reality knowing it can not be a project D97 bears the financial brunt of. Irving students deserve a great outdoor space and I hope it comes together sooner than later...the parents have been laying a solid foundation to make it a reality.

Dan from River Forest  

Posted: June 29th, 2011 6:29 PM

Oops - that sounded so River Forest, but it's Oak Park and Oak Parkers who hate government pork spending. It really doesn't matter which village this is in -- no taxpayer funds should be spent on this while the State of Illinois is in a budget crisis. Not one cent. Foundation grants - fine, but no taxpayer money in times like these.

Dan from River Forest  

Posted: June 29th, 2011 6:26 PM

During these tight economic times, not one cent of taxpayer money should go to this very discretionary project. And the state money mentioned as one source of funding is taxpayer money. Spending state money on this would be akin to the pork projects River Foresters love to attack. Of course, if it's taxpayer money spent in River Forest, it's not pork. Right.....

Oak Park Parent  

Posted: June 29th, 2011 6:23 PM

Let's give credit where credit is due - to the parents! To the best of my knowledge Jassen Stokosch is not employed by District 97. But it does appear that he has put in a lot of time and effort on this project - and will put in more time an effort in order to bring in private funding, grants, etc. D97 should keep parents like Jassen in mind when they decide that parents are too stupid to be part of curriculum committees etc.

Just the Facts  

Posted: June 29th, 2011 6:09 PM

@Alberg - And the referendum didn't approve $75 M. That's more than the budget for the entire district. Plus, the future vision specified by the District mentioned about $2.5 M for schoolyard improvements. Some of this could go to Irving.

Irving parent from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: June 29th, 2011 5:55 PM

Read the article again, Alberg. Most of the money will come from grants, private funds, and state dollars.

Alberg from Oak Park  

Posted: June 29th, 2011 5:17 PM

After crying poor-mouth to con the taxpayers into approving $75,000,000 FOR EDUCATING OUR KIDS, why not blow a couple mil on new blacktop. How stupid can the Board get!!!

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