In May 2009, the Lemont Park District Board of Commissioners was forced to make the hardest decision in my eight-and-a-half years on the board – to remove Jaycee Park.
At the bottom of a detention basin, after years of absorbing water in its four-by-four support posts, the play piece was in need of a major structural overhaul. Once those support posts were removed from the ground, the American’s with Disabilities Act mandated we provide a totally inclusive, handicap accessible park. This was the first time in the district’s history we encountered this type of mandate and, without an immediate plan, we opted to take the park off-line.
In summer 2010, the park board held a community forum to explain our decision to the 35 residents who rightly voiced their displeasure. Under the direction of a new park board and new executive director, we immediately implemented a park replacement policy and schedule so we would never be faced with this embarrassment again.
The board proactively engaged the professional services of the Recreation Accessibility Consultants and Brusseau Design Group to provide an innovative solution for the challenges at Jaycee Park. The board approved a plan to bring the park up to street level and, through proper planning, re-ignited the passion of the neighborhood by re-designing its beloved park.
After a thorough review of our park sites, and by the guidance of our new policy, the park board voted to eliminate the park that once stood at the north end of Timberline Drive with safety concerns in mind. A public forum was held with the residents surrounding Timberline Park, and we discussed in detail our reasons for the elimination. During the same time frame, the board and executive staff engaged in community discussions for a new and improved Lion’s Park. Local residents and the Lemont Lion’s Club were actively involved in the site re-development and Lion’s Park roared back to life in 2012.
On Aug. 6, the Lemont Park District officially will unveil the most decorated neighborhood park in our system, Virginia Reed Park, a.k.a. “The Train Park.”
This park, originally built in 1948, was inspired by the Singer Warner Mother’s Club and Virginia Dahlman Reed, a staunch advocate for the children in her neighborhood. I am pleased to announce that through a strong, neighborhood-involved planning process, “Train #1948” at Virginia Reed Park is soon to ride again.
During the past three years, our park replacement policy and schedule have been guiding documents as the board appropriates funds for the revitalization of our park system. As of this writing, we are in the very early stages of discussing conceptual ideas for Old Derby, Carriage Ridge and Abbey Oaks park sites. We look forward to engaging the local residents at each park neighborhood.
I want to thank Traci Sarpalius, Mary Lou Purpurra and the Jaycee Park residents, who were patient with us while we navigated a federal mandate. Through their involvement and the realization that the board needed a defined process in replacing parks, we have positioned future boards for continued success.
Patrick Sexton is president of the Lemont Park District