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The Evanston Park and Recreation Board, on Sept. 24, voted unanimously to forward a recommendation that the playground equipment at Penny Park be renovated, not replaced.
The park, located at 1500 Lake St., had been the subject of controversy since City staff unveiled a plan to replace Penny Park’s wooden structures with new equipment made from composite materials. The city originally commissioned plans from Leathers & Associates, the same Ithaca, New York-based firm that designed the original original equipment, but residents objected to the $500,000 project, which they said destroyed the park’s unique character. So the City Council asked the Park and Recreation Board to weigh in with recommendations.
After hearing testimonials from community members about keeping the park intact, the Board decided to recommend that the existing equipment be repaired and fortified. They further said that they did not recommend the addition of restroom facilities or a pavilion, and that Leathers & Associates, who were hired without an open request for bids, be removed from the project and be allowed to submit a new bid along with other firms.
“They’re certainly entitled to bid, but they have to be on the same footing as everyone else,” said Board member Randall Mayne. The firm was contracted for $40,000, according to Robert Dorneker, the City’s interim director of Parks, Recreation and Community Services; city staff will have to determine how much of the firm’s work was carried out.
The Board’s recommendation will be presented to the City Council, which has the final say, in late-October or early November.
Audience members spoke highly of Penny Park’s atmosphere. Some appreciated that the playground had nooks and crannies where kids could hide. “We definitely want wood,” said Yulia Borisova. “It makes the park safer and it makes the park less slippery. It inspires more imaginative play.”
Judy Fradin warned that newer playground equipment often contains materials bound by formaldehyde, and said, “Everything in these kids’ lives is plastic—let them have wood.”
“My daughter loves that park, in a way that she doesn’t love the other, ‘plastic’ parks,” added Cynthia Rivera.
Lauren Barski, founder of the group Preserve Penny Park, which collected 2,300 online signatures to preserve the park, praised the Board’s openness on the issue, since she and others maintained the City’s initials decisions on Penny Park were largely unilateral. “The transparency has been welcome and appreciated,” she said.
The Board added to the recommendation that it be consulted on design issues as the process of renovating Penny Park unfolds.