State Senator Don Harmon said Tuesday afternoon that he has heard from officials at the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) that they had contacted the Park District of Oak Park and informed it that if it wanted to receive a $399,000 project reimbursement grant awarded last October for the Field Center renovations, “they should not engage in any construction or disturb any trees until (the IDNR) has reviewed the construction plans.”

Park District Executive Director Gary Balling said Tuesday afternoon that he had been told by the IDNR’s director that the district “should stop construction.” Balling said he responded that he’d already committed to doing nothing with the trees until after Thursday’s special park board meeting. “I couldn’t see any point why construction needed to stop,” he said. Balling said he had not received further word from the IDNR on the issue Tuesday afternoon.

The development comes after more than 60 northwest Oak Park residents rallied Sunday at Field Center to protest park district renovation plans which call for the removal of 14 shade trees and the replanting of nine others to make way for a new soccer field.

Organizers of the rally said the park district had not been straightforward in presenting its plans while park officials said two public meetings had been held during the planning process.

As a result of the upset, however, the park board has scheduled a special meeting for Thursday evening to listen to concerns and to explain the process it followed. The meeting will take place at 7:30 p.m. and be held in the auditorium of Mann School, which is adjacent to the park at Woodbine and Division.

Harmon said he hoped to have a representative at that Thursday’s meeting. “I also hope the IDNR has a representative at the meeting,” he said.

See tomorrow’s Wednesday Journal for more details.

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