Nearly every time the City makes a proposal, residents form an ad-hoc committee in opposition to it. This is a hallmark of Evanston’s cherished activism, and, to its credit, City Council often listens. Otherwise, we might not have our vibrant library branches, the preservation of many City assets and the creation of new ones, such as, 25 years ago, Penny Park.
Now that it is time to rejuvenate the park in some way, those who love the park, from grandparents to schoolchildren, are making their voices heard and their wishes known. Most of those voices are raised in opposition to what the City, through its consultant, Leathers & Associates, proposed.
Council did not wholly concede that the Penny Park process was flawed from the outset, but Fourth Ward Alderman Don Wilson said the City “went astray” by making the starting point a tear-down of the park rather than a preservation and reconstruction of it. Sixth Ward Alderman Mark Tendam moved to hand the process to the Parks and Recreation Board, where it should have been all along, and aldermen unanimously approved the motion at the Jan. 26 city Council meeting.
Their charge is to come up with what to do with Penny Park. As we see it, to do this, the Parks and Recreation Board will have to untangle whether the park can be preserved/renovated rather than replaced and the costs involved with each.
Choosing the company that will get the contract for the park is also likely to be a thorny issue. Leathers & Associates, the firm that helped design and build the park 24 years ago, no longer uses wood in its playground equipment. The company has already proposed new design ideas. Two of these – higher visibility and separate play areas for younger and older children – are in line with new playground guidelines. Incorporating those ideas would of course gut the essence of this beloved park. Since they are only guidelines, not mandates, we hope that they do not make it into the new design.
Another company, Play By Design, reportedly employs several former Leathers personnel. That company appears to offer playground equipment and design similar to those of Penny Park. But the list of potential companies may be even longer.
ADA compliance is paramount to any re-do of Penny Park. We believe that existing playground equipment can be adapted or modified, or new equipment added, so that Penny Park, will be, as is Noah’s Playground, for everyone.