The playground at Rehm Park is seen at the start of constuction on Thursday, April 1, 2021, on East Avenue in Oak Park, Ill. | ALEX ROGALS/Staff Photographer

Get ready, kids. Exciting changes are coming to Rehm Park as work to dismantle the outdated playground began Thursday, April 1. In its place will stand a brand-new playground which the park district promises will include inclusive and development-focused equipment. 

“It’ll be a beautiful playground, which serves kids of all abilities, ages and mental and physical disabilities as well,” said Chris Lindgren, the park district’s superintendent of parks and planning.

The project is part of the park district’s capital improvement plan and will cost just over $1 million, Lindgren told Wednesday Journal. The project will be funded in part by a $400,000 grant awarded to the park district by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. The park district’s capital improvement fund will cover the remaining cost.

The new playground will have an accessible play apparatus called a “we-go-round” – a type of merry-go-round inclusive for all kids, including those in wheelchairs. Lindgren expects it will become one of the park’s most popular pieces of playground equipment. 

Other fun features coming to the playground are ziplines, a jungle gym and a swing set with seats safe for kids in wheelchairs. Rehm Park’s upgraded playground will have such good old standards as slides and monkey bars too. 

The playground’s old equipment is getting a second life, thanks to the organization Kids Around the World, a faith-based non-profit out of Rockford. The non-profit was on site April 1 to remove the old playground.

Kids Around the World refurbishes old playground equipment and installs it in areas facing war, violence and severe poverty. It hasn’t been confirmed which community will get Rehm Park’s old swing sets and slides, according to Lindgren, but it is likely to be one in Ecuador.

“We are thrilled to see our equipment being given another chance to provide kids the opportunity to play,” said Ann Marie Buczek, park district communications manager.

The park district has a relationship with Kids Around the World, having worked with the non-profit in the past.

“They’re a great organization,” said Lindgren. “This is actually the fourth playground that they will have taken from us.”

Instead of using mulch, which needs frequent replacing, the new playground will have rubber-free synthetic turf with a sand infill and a recycled foam layer for fall protection.

“It’s meant so that when kids fall from the playground equipment they’re not injured severely,” said Lindgren.

The synthetic turf has a longer useful life than mulch while being in compliance with the Americans with Disability Act, according to Buczek.

Not only is the equipment being replaced, the entire playground will be reconfigured to improve visibility for parents supervising children at play.

“One of the big issues with the current configuration is that it’s really difficult for parents to manage their children because sightlines are really bad with the playground kind of be split by the train,” said Lindgren.

Rest assured – the beloved trains are staying at the Rehm Park playground. They receive routine maintenance and are in working order. 

Once South Park, now Rehm Park

Colonel Arthur D. Rehm (photo provided by Oak Park River Forest Museum).

Perhaps known to little kids as the park with the trains, Rehm Park was first known to many as plain old South Park.

The Park District of Oak Park acquired South Park in 1913, predating Comedy Central’s adult cartoon show of the same name by 87 years. 

South Park was originally designed by Danish-American landscape architect Jens Jensen, a favorite architect of Henry Ford, founder of Ford Motor Company. Jensen designed several estates for Ford and his family, as well as completing projects for the Henry Ford Hospital and Henry Ford Museum. He was the superintendent of the Chicago Park District and among West Siders was known for his landscape designs at both Columbus Park and Garfield Park. 

However, little of Jensen’s South Park design remains today, according to the park district.

South Park operated under that name until 1960, when it was renamed Rehm Park in honor of Colonel Arthur D. Rehm, a member of the park district’s first board of commissioners and its second board president. 

The trains have been at the park since at least 1960.

Stacey Sheridan

“We absolutely recognize how important and popular those trains are for all of our patrons,” Lindgren.

The reconfiguration will see the playground shifted south, allowing parents to see the entire playground more easily. Due to the proximity of East Avenue, the park district is moving the equipment for younger kids closer to the park side and further from the street, according to Lindgren. 

Rehm Park’s lavatory situation will also see improvements. Part of the playground renovation project includes removing the four porta-potties and putting in an open-air outdoor private restroom. 

“Hopefully we’ll be able to keep it open year-round,” said Lindgren. “We’ll have to see through this winter, how it holds up to the Chicago cold.”

Park district staff will monitor the restroom to ensure it is unoccupied during off hours and at night for security purposes, according to Lindgren.

Construction necessitates the playground’s closure until Sept. 1. However, the Rehm  swimming pool and tennis courts will remain open. 

With spring in full swing, Lindgren understands the difficulty of having a playground closed for construction, but he believes the wait will be well worth it.

“Once it’s done, it’s really going to be a beautiful park that’s going to serve a lot more people than the one that’s currently out there.”

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