The Park District of Oak Park has been awarded a $399,000 matching grant from the State of Illinois to fund its Field Center rehab.

The park district was notified last Thursday that it is one of 73 northern Illinois park districts, forest preserve districts and municipalities that have been awarded a total of $26.4 million in funding from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources under the Open Space Land Acquisition Development (OSLAD) program.

Both park district officials and volunteers expressed hope that Thursday’s grant would be the first of many such grants in the future.

The grant will be matched by another $399,000 in park district funds to pay for the first phase of a four-phase redevelopment of Field Center, 925 Woodbine Ave.

Included in the first-phase work will be a new playground, a splash pad, pathway, shelter, bocce ball courts and landscaping.

Field will be the second park district facility to undergo partial renovation. Andersen Center, 824 N. Hayes Ave., reopened Sept. 16 after a four-month renovation costing some $350,000.

Speaking at a ceremony at Field Center Friday to celebrate the award, Park District Board President David Kindler called the new funding “a huge milestone for the park district.”

“It’s been 10 years since the park district has been in the position to qualify for grant dollars,” he said, “but thanks to the [2005 tax] referendum, master planning and community involvement, we managed to capitalize on the very first attempt.”

Kindler praised the efforts of the many private citizens, such as Jackie Barlow and Bruce Callahan, who have donated much time and effort in helping the park district get over two key hurdles to become eligible for OSLAD grants-acquiring the proven fiscal resources needed to match any OSLAD grant, and educating other citizens about the park district’s need for that funding.

Kindler expressed special appreciation to state Sen. Don Harmon, who attended the ceremony.

“It’s because of guys like Don Harmon that OSLAD grants are even available,” he said, noting repeated attempts in Springfield to gut funding for the program. “His efforts were required to help assure those funds weren’t touched.”

Harmon told his audience that the OSLAD grants were “a wonderful program.”

“It’s communities like Oak Park that are particularly well-served by this program,” Harmon said.

Harmon added that the park district should be pleased with its preparation and presentation.

“You were head and shoulders above many applicants,” he said, “which is why you not only got the grant, but got a large one.”

Park districts and other local governments are eligible to apply annually for both land acquisition funding and development funding. Land acquisition grants are capped at $750,000, development grants at $399,000.

In April 2005 a tax referendum passed, making the park district fully funded directly from taxpayers, rather than having a portion of its funding coming from the village.

A site plan for Field Center was completed in May. In September, park board commissioners Christine Graves and Mark Gartland traveled to Springfield to make a presentation supporting the OSLAD application.

For Graves, one of the two newest commissioners on the park board, the grant award was particularly sweet in that it marked her first major accomplishment on the board. Graves admitted that the presentation was “kind of intimidating.”

“You have 110 agencies that are all seeking funding, so you have to be sure your three minutes are well spent,” she said.

Noting that the park district was eligible to apply annually for grants to develop its 18 park facilities, Commissioner Marty Bracco said, “Hopefully we can go 10-for-10 over the next 10 years.”

Gary Balling, parks executive director, said park district staff members are working on developing a construction schedule for the renovations.

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