Cutting through different swaths of the grassy landscape in Scoville Park are worn footpaths, some more distinct than others, that don’t adhere to the prescribed walkways. Years of habit and thousands of footsteps have created these now visible markers that tell others in the park how best to traverse the green.
In the eyes of John McManus, a park designer who has worked on numerous projects in Oak Park, there may be a lesson here. At a March 24 meeting in the library that abuts Scoville Park, McManus and members of the park district began asking residents to help divine those lessons. The goal is to develop a new master plan by mid June for Scoville Park at Oak Park Avenue and Lake Street.
“Today we begin talking about the future of Scoville Park,” Gary Balling, executive director of the park district, said at the start of the meeting.
The master plan is intended to frame the park’s use for decades to come. As part of an effort to improve its facilities, a master plan has been drafted already for 16 of the park district’s facilities. Scoville Park, however, is worthy of special attention because it is the literal and symbolic center of the village.
“It’s really a green plaza,” said McManus, co-owner of Altamanu, the landscape design company hired by the district.
Balling and other park officials have already met with six focus groups in the village to get a sense of how changes to space at Scoville Park might impact security, local businesses and the library, for example. Historic preservationists, event planners and maintenance crews have also weighed in.
With at least two more discussions open to the general public, Balling and McManus hope to get a sense of what the community’s priorities will be. Most any idea offered at this point will be considered, they said, but there are already a few themes developing.
The park district anticipates having a budget of at least $725,000 for any initial changes.
At the southwest corner of Scoville Park, near the entrance to the public library, is a space set aside for people to congregate. However, at every meeting so far, the issue of who is congregating – and what they’re doing – has been raised.
“The teenagers don’t bother me as much as the homeless people,” said one woman who attended the March 24 discussion.
A police officer whose beat includes the park said that location generates a fair volume of complaints, but most of the concerns are about rowdy kids. There’s no indication that an open-air drug market exists there, said the officer, who was asked that question by some who attended the meeting.
Other potential changes to Scoville Park include the addition of a permanent performance stage near Lake Street, and reducing the number of tennis courts on the northern end by one. The entrance to the park, at the southeast corner near Lake and Oak Park, may also be revamped. Residents offered that additional plaques or small monuments could be installed to call attention to the history of Scoville Park.
Any change made to the green, which sits squarely in the middle of the village, begs the question of whether people should be encouraged to lounge or given prompts to be more actively engaged. Because Scoville Park attempts to serve so many – and is situated in one of Oak Park’s most densely populated neighborhoods – there will likely be a mix, said Balling.
“In this park, more than any other, we really need to create a balance,” Balling said. “There’s a lot of intense use of that park space.”