With bids significantly over budget, River Forest’s park district board decided March 9 to install artificial turf only on the girls’ infield at Keystone Park this spring. 

The park district is now redoing the bids for the scaled-back project, which they hope to have before the board in April. At the same time the commissioners agreed to move the infield 20 feet to the west, to free up space to potentially build two new platform tennis courts. 

Local platform tennis players have been urging the park district to add more courts and to add a larger “paddle hut” where players could hang out. But the board won’t make any decision about whether to actually make those additions until after the results of the community survey come back in April. 

In 2017, River Forest Youth Baseball Softball league proposed putting artificial turf on the softball infield and offered to donate $50,000 to help pay for it. The proposal caused controversy, as many residents argued that artificial turf would be harmful to both health and the environment, while proponents argued that the dangers of artificial turf were exaggerated. The park district approved turfing girls’ and boys’ infields during the July 1, 2020 meeting.

Platform tennis, colloquially known as “paddle,” started out with two Keystone Park courts in 2012. Since then, two more courts were added. In recent years, platform tennis players have been lobbying for two more courts, as well as a separate “paddle hut” space where players could socialize. They currently use the Keystone Center for that purpose. 

As Commissioner Lynn Libera said during the meeting, under the preliminary plans, adding two new platform tennis courts would require the park district to move the larger, traditional tennis courts. Doing that would require it to move the batting cages and shifting the girls’ infield to the west to accommodate the tennis court move. 

During the March 9 board meeting, Kitty Bingham, who co-led the effort to put in platform tennis courts at Keystone Park in the first place,  told the board that, with the way the program has been growing, more courts were needed just to accommodate newer players.

“It’s time to invest in paddle infrastructure,” she said. “With the right infrastructure, our paddle program can be a top-notch program.”

Brad West was one of the several platform tennis players who spoke in support as well.

“I’ve recruited friends and neighbors, and it’s hard to keep them interested, because there isn’t enough space to facilitate that interest,” he said. “And, you know, they’re like – how do we find time to play and get better?”

But the proposal did face some pushback. Greg White, president of the River Forest Youth Baseball Softball (RFYBS) league and a major supporter of putting in artificial turf on the infields, dismissed the paddle hut as a little more than a bar. And, while he said he wasn’t opposed to platform tennis per se, he argued that if the park district was going to spend money to add courts, it should spend money to improve Keystone Park fields.

Gregor Martin, one of the commissioners for River Forest Youth Soccer, said that, while he was sympathetic to platform tennis’ needs, he argued that youth soccer needs improvements too, noting that, like baseball and softball infields in Keystone Park, the soccer fields get damaged during rain. 

“Oak Brook may have great paddle facilities, but I can guarantee you they [improved] baseball and soccer facilities before they did it,” he said.

Martin added that he owns a construction company, and he’d be happy to bid on the project, since he felt that he might be able to do it cheaper than the park district assumed.

Several residents also felt that the park district should come up with a unified plan for all sports that use the park, instead of approaching each sport individually.

Mike Sletten, the park district’s executive director, told the board the costs of excavation and transporting materials were higher than what the park district engineer originally estimated. 

Board President Ross Roloff noted that RFYBS originally suggested only adding artificial turf to the girls’ infield, and that the park district decided to turf both infields in hopes of saving money. Since that hasn’t panned out, he argued that it made sense to go back to the earlier plan. 

Commissioner Mark Brown wondered what would happen if the park district simply rebid the project again. Sletten said it usually doesn’t make sense unless there’s something substantially different about the bids. And while moving the field 20 feet would be a chance, he didn’t expect it to substantially affect the price.

After some discussion, the board agreed that moving the girls’ infield 20 feet made sense, since, even if there aren’t any new platform tennis courts, that space can be used for something else. Roloff gave another much-requested amenity – a dog park – as an example. 

White said he supports the move.

“Honestly, you know what, moving the field, I think it’s a good idea,” he said. “That will take the manhole cover … and move it out of play.”

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