On the second week of each month, we will feature a column on environmental issues submitted by IGov, an intergovernmental body composed of two representatives each from the village, public library, park district, township, and school districts 97 and 200.Today’s column is written by the park district’s Chris Lindgren.

The Park District of Oak Park has taken climate change seriously. Over the last six years, its focus can be summed up with one word: Action. The district identified sustainability as one of its core values to make sure that it was incorporated when making decisions. After all, the park district represents the greenspace in our community and should lead in stewardship of our natural resources. 

The district is breaking ground on March 19 on the fully electric Net Zero Community Recreation Center. This long-awaited and much-needed facility will incorporate many sustainability features:

 Lighting and energy use – Triple-glazed windows throughout. North-facing windows take advantage of natural light and reduce the need for artificial lighting. Efficient lighting systems and controls, including occupancy-controlled outlets. 315 watt solar array. Battery backup system to increase resiliency in power outage situations, keeping critical components running.

 Building systems – Super-insulated building envelope, including tight air barrier and elimination of thermal breaks which reduce the loss of heating and cooling – all lower the size of equipment needed. Very high efficiency VRF HVAC system, paired with a DOAS ventilation system, reduce electrical demand. Electrical load monitoring will closely monitor and troubleshoot unwanted electrical usage. 

 Water management – Installation of a bioswale in the parkway to assist with stormwater management. Permeable pavers used for the parking lot. 

Use of urban timber – To make wooden benches from a Heritage Oak from Scoville Park.

Additional district sustainability efforts are many. They include the installation of solar on 10 district buildings, and signing on to community solar for a portion of its remaining electrical needs; changing out all of the buildings’ interior lights to LED as well as all park lights, contributing to the reduction of the district’s electricity usage agency-wide by 37%. The five cisterns installed in the parks have saved over 1,250,000 gallons of water annually. Adding rain gardens and bioswales in parks are considered wherever practical. The district’s natural resource management practices include battery-powered landscaping equipment, natural turf management, strict IPM and planting native trees and perennials throughout. 

Fleet management practices have reduced fuel usage by 26%; electrifying the fleet starts next year. All special events now have waste-sorting stations and the community centers all have composting for programs. 

What’s next? A greenhouse gas inventory specific to district operations will be conducted, establishing baselines so goals based on accurate data will enable the district to find its path toward zero emissions. In the meantime, the park district continues look for ways to reduce its footprint. 

Oak Park still has a very long way to go, but the key is to change our thinking. Change how we think about energy, water, waste and all natural resources. Turn off lights when we leave the room or when there is plenty of natural light coming through the windows. Re-use as much as possible. Turn off the water when brushing our teeth. All of these “baby steps” can make a difference, turning into habits and reminding us of our impact on Mother Earth. 

Chris Lindgren is superintendent of parks & planning and ADA coordinator for the Park District of Oak Park.

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