The first phase of the Longfellow Park renovation will cost over $1 million. Last week park district officials learned that at least part of that amount will be covered. If all goes as hoped, fully half the tab for current improvements will be covered by grants.

The Longfellow renovations, scheduled to begin this summer, will feature ADA accessibility improvements, including two new accessible creative play areas. The project is being supported in part by a $222,000 Access to Recreation grant secured by the Oak Park-River Forest Community Foundation, in partnership with the park district and other local organizations. Grants totaling $235,000 from the Good Heart, Work Smart Foundation will allow the park district to build the foundation for a planned elevator in the recreation center.

Other improvements include restroom retrofitting for ADA accessibility, the addition of interior walkways and the relocation and renovation of the basketball court to make it fully accessible.

Park District Executive Director Gary Balling said the district is still awaiting word on an Open Space Land Aquisition and Development grant (OSLAD) from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. Those grants are expected to be announced within the next week or so.

Gartland, Nance honored

Board President Mark Gartland thought he was merely going to be one of 2,000 people having lunch at the Illinois Association of Park Districts/Illinois Parks and Recreation Association’s (IAPD/IPRA) joint conference in downtown Chicago last Friday. Turns out he was one of the afternoon’s featured attractions.

Gartland, who’s served on the board five years, was honored by the IAPD/IPRA as this year’s “Rising Star.” The award is presented to park district board members who have exhibited “exemplary performance in duties and responsibilities.”

Gary Balling praised Gartland’s “unbelievable leadership,” saying, “We nominated Mark for all the good work he’s done.” Balling said Gartland has a long history of service to the park district, going back before his election to the board, including service on the infrastructure committee, starting in 2001. That group is credited with establishing solid future direction for the park district board and staff and laid the groundwork for a successful referendum.

One of Gartland’s earliest initiatives after being elected to the park board in 2003 was the then-stalled skate park at Stevenson Park. Gartland is credited with garnering the wide community support needed to get the project moving again. The Active Sport Area, featuring a skate park and basketball courts, opened in the fall of 2003. He was also central to the effort to get a 2005 park referendum passed. The resulting financial stability has allowed the park district to move forward with a 5-year capital improvement plan.

Gartland also has been part of the master planning for seven parks, two facility planning processes and one dog park since September 2005.

Nance on a roll

Bobbi Nance, who supervises the soon-to-be opened Teen Drop-in Center at Stevenson Center, meanwhile, has had a very good two months. In late November, Nance was named the Illinois Parks and Recreation Association’s “Young Professional of the Year.” This month she earned recognition as a Certified Parks and Recreation Professional, a formal certification held by 750 people in Illinois.

Balling praised his employee as someone who approaches her job humbly but produces results.

“She approaches it all with understatement, but she over-delivers,” said Balling. “She always comes through.”

Balling said Nance relates particularly well to teens.

“She’s really grabbed a hold of our teen program and run with it,” said Balling. “She’s been engaged with staff at Ridgeland Common and gotten several teen events together. Her effort is just phenomenal.”

Like all good professionals, Nance is more than willing to share her knowledge with colleagues. She’s spoken about working with teens before the Illinois Parks and Recreation Association and the Wisconsin Parks and Recreation Association.

Join the discussion on social media!