It’s safe to say the playground at Rehm Park was worth the wait. Since it opened, kids have been flocking to the newly renovated playground, with parents and caregivers delighting in its improved accessibility and visibility.
“We’ve been here the whole week, every morning,” said LaTierra Jackson, who nannies two little boys. “This playground is amazing.”
Jackson and her charges were among 50 or so others at the Rehm playground when Wednesday Journal stopped by Oct. 1. While almost everyone was wearing masks, the facial coverings did little to muffle the many shrieks of joy and laughter from the children at play.
The Park District of Oak Park is thrilled with the community’s response to the playground. Chris Lindgren, superintendent of parks and planning, told Wednesday Journal the park district has received countless emails and messages from happy community members.
The park district opened the playground at East Avenue and Lexington Street to the public during Rehm Park’s “Fall Fest” on Sept. 26. While families got to pick pumpkins and take part in other fun autumnal activities, the playground was the main attraction.
“We were taking the fence down, and people were coming in as if it was a tourist attraction,” said Lindgren.
Boasting more than just a slide and monkey bars, the park district designed the playground with inclusivity and childhood development in mind. One of the features to receive much praise from the community is the playground’s “we-go-round,” which is a type of merry-go-round accessible for all, including children in wheelchairs and people who use walkers or canes.
“It’s flat to the ground, so they can just simply get on and enjoy that space,” said Ann Marie Buczek, the park district’s communication manager.
The playground has zip lines with special seats for those without the ability to use traditional ziplines, which are also available to kids at the playground. Having both zipline formats allows kids to play together, regardless of differing physical capabilities.
“I just think it’s really great,” said Lisa Hyatt of the accessibility features, while her two children ran around the playground.
Hyatt’s daughter Virginia shared that her mother’s appreciation for the accessible equipment. The 4-year-old described the experience of playing at the new playground as “really good” and said the “we-go-round” was her favorite piece of equipment.
Beyond all of its cool playthings, the park itself is also rather beautiful. Large trees provide shade from the sun, creating an environment that feels removed from the playground’s bustling suburban location.
“I like that the trees are overlapping with the playground,” Jackson said. “It just looks beautiful – the colors, everything. It’s a nice little spot.”
The playground even has two separate nature play areas with logs, boulders and mulch to provide greater sensory experiences for children.
“There’s more of a specific natural element that provides a different play atmosphere and also offers different sensory items, so [kids] can touch and feel the bark of the logs and play in the mulch,” said Lindgren.
The new playground cost about $1 million, covered in part by a $400,000 grant awarded to the park district by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. The remaining costs came out of the park district’s capital improvement fund.
The playground took about six months to build. Work began April 1 with the disassembly of the old playground equipment, which the district donated to Kids Around the World, a faith-based non-profit out of Rockford.
The only thing that remains from the old Rehm playground are the beloved trains, which are operated by park district staff. Currently, the trains only run from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays because the park district does not have enough staff to run the trains more regularly.
“We’re struggling like everyone else to fill a number of positions like that, where there are only a couple of two to three-hour shifts,” said Lindgren. “It makes it really difficult to staff it, but we do recognize [the trains] are popular.”
Not being able to go on the trains didn’t prevent Virginia Hyatt from having fun at Rehm. Holding up both hands for emphasis, the 4-year-old gave the new playground 10 figurative stars.