By Megan Dooley
The Park District of Oak Park board of commissioners has finally set a date to approve a master plan for Stevenson Park, after what staffers are calling a "marathon" park planning process.
"I feel like we're at mile 25," said park district Executive Director Gary Balling, at a meeting of the board Thursday night. "I know we can do this. We're close to that finish line."
The board members reached a consensus at the committee of the whole meeting to approve a plan at their next regular meeting, scheduled for Sept. 15. But true to form, at least in terms of this project, the board and staffers asked for additional tweaks to the final plan before sending it through.
Josephine Bellalta, appeared at the meeting to run through the final versions of the plan. Bellalta is from Altamanu, the landscape architecture and urban design firm contracted to complete the park makeover.
The final plan includes a large multipurpose sports field on the west end of the park, along with a baseball infield and backstop in the northwest corner. A playground area is situated just east of the playing fields, and after last week's tweaks, has been reduced in size from 9,000 square feet to 7,000 square feet. But Bellalta said that with proper planning and an efficient design, patrons won't feel the loss of the 2,000 additional square feet.
At its last meeting, on Aug. 23, members of the board raised concerns about the number of trees that would have to be removed to implement the new park plan. The latest concept calls for the removal of 18 trees, and the relocation of 15 trees. But more trees will be added in different areas, bringing the grand total of trees in the park to 33.
Balling said the park district also has plans in other areas of the village that will more than make up for the removal of the trees at Stevenson.
"We're going to be putting in close to 180, 190 trees in other sites," he said.
In the new park, the entryway from Lake will be flanked on each side by retaining walls, one of which would help keep the playing field level at its northeast corner. The board mentioned the murals recently installed in a similar wall at Barrie Park, and agreed on the possibility of doing a similar project at Stevenson, once the wall is built.
No final decision has been made on whether artificial turf will be used on the playing fields.
Bellalta said that the next step would be to get cost estimate adjustments for the modified plan. Those will include estimates for both a synthetic and natural field.
In other business, the board heard reports on a number of different programs, including the Early Childhood Program and Collaboration for Early Childhood, the gymnastics program, and the Teen Center at Stevenson.
The early childhood programs are aimed at children from birth to five years old. Carolyn Newberry Schwartz, executive director for the Collaboration for Early Childhood Care and Education, said that a large emphasis within the collaboration is to support the professional development of early childhood teachers.
"We're growing, as a result of our strategic plan," she said. The Collaboration has also enlisted a professional development coordinator, Diana Rosenbrock, to help work with teachers, and oversee training series held throughout the year.
"Diana went around to 12 different sites creating professional development plans," Newberry Schwartz said. "Now we're going back and looking at how they're working."
Next up was Jaime Lapke, manager for the gymnastics program. She outlined the program goals, noting the emphasis on recreation over competition.
"The focus is recreational," Lapke said, though the program does include two competitive team options.
In the past three years, participation in the gymnastics sessions has been consistent. "We value the repeat customer," Lapke said. "And once we have them we would like to try to continue to serve them the best way that we can."
Safety is one of the top staff priorities, and though gymnastics can be a high risk sport, the number of injuries has been minimal over the years.
"I want to commend you on your injury history," said Christine Graves, a commissioner. "If you look at the past three years, your injuries are going down."
Finally, Melissa Rimdzius, teen supervisor for the park district, reported on her work at the Teen Center, located in the Stevenson Center at 49 Lake St.
The center opened the day of the meeting for its fall season, and welcomed 18 teens on the first day.
"They are very hyped up," said Rimdzius, of this year's participants.
She said her immediate goals are to increase awareness about the teen center and increase membership, and she's been doing so by promoting it at park district camps and other programs.
"We do need to keep it fresh and try new things, and show that we're really invested in the teens and their interests," Rimdzius said.