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Garden site created for peace and family

Berwyn, IL

A new serenity has been formed in a place that was once filled with crime and corruption.

Berwyn Park District’s Urban Garden Park, 26th Street and Wesley Avenue, will be renamed next month as “Serenity Park” after Heritage Middle School’s Rachel Figueroa, 11, won a naming contest for the garden.

“The reason I chose it was because serenity means freedom and Berwyn is the city of freedom,” Figueroa said. “When I think of serenity I think of freedom and peace. Families go to parks to enjoy themselves, relax and know they would have a good time.”

Figueroa said she lives near the garden and when they first created it last year she didn’t know it was going to be a park and when she visited the location she fell in love with it.

“As a kid, I believe it’s good to enjoy yourself and for kids they can go there and ride scooters, bikes and enjoy themselves,” Figueroa said. “They can also experience nature there.”

She said it’s nice to have an escape where she can stop and smell the flowers, which she doesn’t see very often in town.

“Normally, I don’t see any flowers, I just see trees,” Figueroa said.

Berwyn Parks Director Jeff Janda said the park district has asked for help from the public in naming parks in the past. A contest was held in the past to name Freedom Park, 3701 Scoville Ave., for example.

“We did the contest for community connection,” Janda said. “The students feel a sense of ownership.”

The park district received 114 entries to rename Urban Garden Park.

Figueroa said she was shocked when she received the phone call from the park district that her name was chosen.

“I was surprised,” Figueroa said. “I was in bed and I get a call and I didn’t know who it was. I was so surprised I think my heart even stopped.”

Garden site was once topic of controversy

Urban Garden Park is located where the Berwyn Police Department building once stood. The city sold the property to developer Clifford Josefik’s company, Tyko Topline, in 2003.

Former Berwyn Ald. Alex Bojovic admitted to accepting $10,000 in cash from Josefik in 2002 in exchange for voting to approve the sale, despite the fact that Tyko’s bid of $108,000 was far below an area church’s bid of $201,000. Appraisals had valued the property between $160,000 and $187,500.

In 2005, Tyko began construction to transform the police station into condominiums and was adding a third story to the structure. During a heavy wind storm in November 2005, police officers passing by noticed the third story’s walls were swaying with the wind.

Police immediately evacuated patrons at the neighboring sports bar and hours later, the third story collapsed, destroying the bar. An investigation found the third story had not been built to code. Later, Josefik was convicted of bribery and sentenced to more than a decade in prison.

In 2008, on the day he was supposed to report to prison, Josefik shot himself to death near the grave sites of several family members at Woodlawn Cemetery in Forest Park.

In 2009, after the city bought the land back, teenagers from a summer work program coordinated by the North Berwyn Park District and the Community and Economic Development Association of Cook County helped turn the vacant lot into a small garden and park.

The land is within the borders of the Berwyn Park District and has been leased to them by the city for the past two years, Janda said.

Janda said the park district currently maintains the garden and leases it from the village for $1 a year for the next 99 years.

New features enhance public experience

Currently, park district staff is redeveloping Urban Garden Park with amenities and a new water and sewer system for residents to water their plants and flowers.

“A water hose will be available for people to water their plants and we are going to be adding small picnic tables for people to have lunch and enjoy ice cream from Tastee Freeze around the corner,” Janda said.

On April 1, four beds will be split into quarters and 16 plots will be available for residents to apply to plant what they wish in their section.

“If someone wants to go corn or tomatoes, they can,” Janda said. “They can grow flowers if they want also.”

Janda said the park district wants to reach out to residents in condominiums or apartments that don’t have a yard to grow flowers or produce.

“What is planted will be specifically grown for the people who get the plot,” Janda said.

A rededication ceremony will be held at the end of April or beginning of May, Janda said.

Figueroa said she will be present for a ribbon cutting ceremony of “Serenity Park.”

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