Irving Elementary School blacktopGraham Johnston/Staff

Board commissioners with the Park District of Oak Park remain unsure how much money they’ll be able to contribute toward the effort to transform the blacktop at Irving Elementary School. First they want to hear how organizers plan to get the rest of the money for the project.

Jan Arnold, the park district’s new executive director, learned from officials at District 97 that an environmentally-friendly artificial turf field to replace the asphalt is expected to cost $980,000, she told the park board Thursday. D97 committed another $500,000 toward the cost of a playground. Arnold said she has not yet met with the Irving PTO, which has been working on the project since 2005.

The park board has already voiced support for the blacktop re-do, but park district projects at 25 Lake St. and Ridgeland Common make it difficult to know how much they can commit.

Recent data shows that, among the eight public elementary schools, Irving has had the most head injuries from falls on their 80,000-square-foot blacktop surface. Arnold said the release of that data last month increases the pressure to get something done.

Park board Vice President Jessica Bullock said she supports the effort and is sympathetic toward organizers because they need a lot of money to get started.

But, she said, “It’s still very nebulous to me,” because it remains unknown where the rest of the money will come from. She suggested a park district contribution of between $50,000 and $300,000.

Treasurer Paul Aeschleman agreed with a contribution in the range of $300,000 but prefers extending it over a couple of years. He said the board could give organizers a timeline — if they don’t have the rest of the money by a certain date, the park district could pull their contribution.

Secretary Victor Guarino said they could offer money in exchange for priority access to the field.

One complicating aspect, Arnold said, is the park district’s desire to bid out the Ridgeland Common and gymnastics center projects by the end of this year or beginning of next year — the same time Irving organizers want to go out to bid since they need to get started by the time school ends. As a result, Arnold said it’s unknown how much money they’ll have available.

“Our board isn’t going to feel comfortable until they understand when the school would want the money,” she said.

But there’s a willingness to work together for the best interests of the overall community, said Arnold who plans to speak with D97 Superintendent Al Roberts and provide more information to the park board at their June 21 meeting.

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