Trees in the outfield: The field at Stevenson Park ends at the concrete train embankment starts.File/staff

It backs up to freight train tracks. It includes the hard edges of the concrete skateboard park. And it is set atop the concrete bunker of two water reservoirs.

Welcome to Stevenson Park, the 18th and final park in Oak Park to undergo a master planning process, and after hearing from residents last week, the park district’s planning consultant said he will deliver one option that plays up the park’s more urban feel.

“If it had more of a hip dynamic to it instead of trying to be folksy like a lot of neighborhood parks are … maybe it would all kind of flow together better,” said one parent speaking at the community forum on April 20.

John Mac Manus, of Altamanu, the district’s landscape architecture consultant, agreed, and said his firm would like to create at least one proposal in which the park makeover will take a gritty and stylish approach. “There are a lot of very sort of cutting edge, hard edge parks,” he said.

Stevenson sits on a small, raised plot at Humphrey and Lake. Pastoral, it ain’t.

You won’t find walking paths or gardens here. There’s the skate park, the basketball hoops, a playground and a large baseball field with a short porch in right field where long flies land on the railroad tracks. Sitting in the middle, between the two raised reservoirs, is the Stevenson Rec Center.

Park district Executive Director Gary Balling opened the first community meeting by explaining the park district is interested in hearing opinions from the public in order to develop “blueprints for the future” of the project.

Suggestions for the park ran the gamut, from the urban/edgy motif to knocking down playground sets and installing an artificial turf sports field. The session was designed to give contractors from Altamanu, the landscape architecture firm charged with completing the park redo, ideas to consider as it begins drafting plans. At a second community meeting scheduled for Wednesday, May 18, Altamanu will present those draft proposals and seek additional input.

“It doesn’t feel like too many years since we were talking about the water reservoir and the skate park, and some of the other changes that have happened at the park,” said Balling, referring to modifications made at the park shortly before the master plan process was initiated. He said the park district considered skipping Stevenson in the master planning process, because of the recent changes, but decided in the end that it was in need of a more major overhaul.

Mac Manus pointed out a number of areas that need attention in the park, including the poorly-plotted entryways that provide awkward access to the park and encourage loitering. “It doesn’t create a welcoming feeling into this park,” said Mac Manus of the main entrance on Lake. “It’s not exactly full of charm. What we’ve heard about this entryway, besides being difficult, it’s a place where kids mill.”

The park also does not have a drop-off area for cars, and the arrangement of cross walks does not coincide with park entrances, both of which make entry into Stevenson from across busy Lake Street more challenging.

Other things that need attention include a chain link fence that is bowing out, a larger-than-usual playground area, and a narrow walkway next to the Stevenson recreation center building where people tend to linger in large numbers.

Mac Manus named a number of different proposals for the park. He said the current playing field, which includes a baseball diamond and backstop, might be eliminated to make room for a multi-purpose field, made with either grass or artificial turf. He said those fields could be even further expanded if they eliminated or cut down the size of the playground structures.

When the discussion opened up to include community members, opinions varied greatly on what should be done with the park. One father of three said that his younger child often plays on the playground structures while the two older kids are elsewhere in the park, skating in the skate park or doing other activities. “It’s good to have at least something, I guess,” he said of the playground elements.

Another father whose children are highly involved in soccer said Oak Park needs to catch up to other communities in terms of playing fields. “What I see in Oak Park is a real lack of a good soccer field, with artificial turf. … That enables play on weeks like this,” he said, adding that Oak Park children are unable to use practice fields during damp or rainy weather for fear of damaging the field. “It seems like an ideal place to have something like this in this community,” he said of Stevenson.

“I think that’s worth talking about. I definitely think it should be on the table,” said Mark Gartland, outgoing president of the park district board of commissioners who lives near Stevenson. He added that he thinks there is still a need, in the park, for some kind of playground structure.

Altamanu will return in May with several options based on feedback received last week.

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