Grading the Scoville Park upgrade

Opinion: Ken Trainor

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The wait was long, and residents definitely grew restless, but the prison-camp chain-link fence finally came down at Scoville Park in time for Memorial Day. Two million-plus bucks ($1.6M via state grant) and after living with this revitalized green space for two months, it's time to weigh in on what works — and what could work better.

Judging purely by its use, the rehab was a success. Frisbees are flying, strollers rolling, sunbathers basking, and backsides benched. The thundering hordes (plus plenty of rain) hammered the grass (all sod, all new), which seems to have survived the initial trampling (including the entire community traipsing through during Day in Our Village). Oak Parkers were all over this park from the moment the fences disappeared.

And why not? Three of the four new entry portals, one at each corner, not only invite, they literally funnel visitors in. Open, accessible, stylish and welcoming, the gateways easily earn the highest grade ("A+") of the entire project.

At the corner of Oak Park and Lake, the long overlooked and ignored Horse Fountain (it's a long story, but the park district should tell it) now enjoys the visual prominence it deserves, as does the stone marker — surrounded by a flower bed, surrounded by a backless, oval bench — which announces the park's inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places, giving the whole array some cachet. As do the "blue stone" pavers at each entrance — apparently now a requirement for all municipal beautification projects.

The new cement walkways inside the park earn an "A" because they're more intelligently laid out, improving Scoville's interface with the Oak Park Public Library, rising majestically on the west end. The portion that parallels Lake Street on the south end and the stretch paralleling Oak Park Avenue on the east side allow pedestrians the pleasant option of diverting through the park to avoid grating traffic noise for one lovely curving block of their journey.

If you decide to spend a little time within this urban sanctuary before continuing on your way, benches are bountiful. In fact, they're unique among benches in the village's parks, gracefully curving to outline the entry funnel at Oak Park and Lake and up on the hill where the War Memorial (aka Peace Triumphant) enjoys a lot more company these days. Reportedly, the benches are tempting targets for skateboarders, and we don't know how they'll look after a year of bleaching in the sun, but for now, they, too, earn a solid "A."

The new plaza surrounding the monument gets a "B." In its favor, it helps highlight this massive sculpture, itself the subject of a major rehab effort several years back, and gives it its long overdue due. Patrons study it as if thinking, "Where'd that come from?" The plaza seems a bit sterile, however, though the aforementioned extra benches help.

What doesn't help are the flower beds. Once the highlight of a visit to Scoville Park, the new beds are underwhelming to say the least — ornamental grass and undistinguished flowers. Will there be any tulips next spring? The current arrangement earns a middling "C."

The permanent stage, creatively imbedded in a berm on the south end of the park, gets a "B " and possibly higher (I haven't made it to one of the Summer Sunday concerts yet to see how it "plays").

The large cement cubes cluttering the park get a "D" (for disappointing). Too large, too many, too tempting perhaps for taggers, and (my parental side showing) too sharp — they seem like an accident waiting to happen for toddlers. They also don't seem to serve any purpose other than ornamentation. Kind of dull, actually.

On the bright side, lighting gets an "A" — much improved over the previous version, especially by the monument which, reportedly, was a haven for nocturnal mischief. Now it's ablaze at night.
The playground and the pool-blue tennis courts are much improved and well utilized. The practice wall at the courts was a good addition. Another "A."

Preserving the quaint little building by the playground shows sensitivity to continuity and tradition. That earns an "A-" and possibly higher (I haven't tried the restroom yet).

Angled informational signage tells the stories of James Scoville (whose house once crowned the hill), Jens Jensen (legendary landscape designer who laid out the original park after Scoville bequeathed it), and Betty and Joseph Kettlestrings. "A-" (until they provide background on the Horse Fountain).

Wi-Fi reception is a real bonus (presuming it works).

Upgrading facilities while maintaining character — that's the tightwire you walk when you redo a popular park. I give the park district an "A-" for their overall effort. With the newly remodeled Mills Park and the still-evolving Austin Gardens, we now have three "green space" gems. When it comes to parks, the options are recreation (play and games) and re-creation (reflective refuge). Green spaces allow our harried, hurried souls to slow down and regenerate. Having one of these oases located dead center in the middle of town speaks well of our priorities.

Was Scoville Park worth the taxpayer outlay? For my money, it was.

How about you?

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Done from Oak Park  

Posted: August 2nd, 2013 4:44 PM

Susan - Now if I can get some of the Austin patrons of Longfellow to realize that there are other parks in OP, you'll really have a crowd.

Christopher Williams from Oak Park   

Posted: August 2nd, 2013 4:23 PM

Does anyone know how the costs of the Scoville Park renovations were audited or tracked? I could be wrong, but I'm a little suspicious about the overall cost in relation to the changes.


Posted: August 1st, 2013 10:53 PM

Yes, the playground is crowded, but not big enough to meet the potential demand. My kids were just there yesterday and enjoyed it, but again, one baby swing, a real problem.


Posted: August 1st, 2013 10:28 AM

The new playground has always been crowded when I see it, but we don't go. My kids prefer the quieter, fenced playgrounds. I can think of 4 better ones we go to regularly so it's no big deal for us. But I agree it needs some constructive feedback from parents.


Posted: August 1st, 2013 12:24 AM

I was surprised how small the new playground is and only one baby swing? This is one or could be one of the most used playgrounds in oak park because of its proximity to the library, yet the new one is not adequate. I wonder if anyone with little kids attended the planning meetings.

Kurt from Oak Park  

Posted: July 31st, 2013 8:52 AM

A "Dunce Cap" goes to the info sign in the southeast corner of the park that describes Scoville Park as being in the "geographic center of Oak Park." They even include a map with a big star right in the middle (marking the location of the high school, apparently). So far I've resisted the urge to fix the map with a Sharpie.

Brent from Oak Park  

Posted: July 31st, 2013 7:34 AM

Horse fountain was preserved

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