Rendering of the new Penny Park

The beloved park on Lake Street between Florence and Ashland avenues will look much the same in December, when the equipment has been replaced, as it does now, Tony Malkusak of Abundant Playscapes told residents at a Second Ward meeting on Aug. 11. With three goals in mind, crews from Elanar Construction Company of Chicago will set up a construction fence in August and spend the next four months creating a Penny Park for the 21st-century.

The goals, said Mr. Malkusak, are to “entirely replace the deteriorated wood play structure; maintain the material, character, and layout of the existing play equipment; and comply with playground safety and ADA standards to make sure every child can “get to, on, and through the play area.”

Changes for ADA Compliance

Playground equipment will be accessible both at ground level and by ramps on the upper levels to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Mr. Malkusak said. A play panel – perhaps a tic-tac-toe game – will replace the moving floor, which, one resident said, “worked only for about a week” after the park was built 26 years ago. The path to the swings and to the sand-play area will be 5 feet wide. Transfer stations – to allow wheelchairs to turn around or be dismounted – will be new feature.

“We will add a ramp to the ‘flying saucer,’ or ‘boat,’  and remove one side of it for accessibility,” Mr. Malkusak said.

A “custom roller table,” made of metal that will not absorb heat from the sun, will replace one of the horizontal ladders. Children propel themselves along the table by grasping overhead bars.

Changes for Safety

Public Works Director Dave Stoneback told the RoundTable that Penny Park will be rebuilt under the new playground safety codes.

Looking at the children who play in Penny Park, Mr. Malkusak said that, despite the sign that says the equipment is for children ages 5-12, “the play yard is more appropriate for children ages 2-12. … We have made a couple of adjustments so it will reflect the actual users of the park.”

By lowering the height of some of the equipment – one of the horizontal ladders and some upper-body equipment – from 84 inches above the ground to 60 inches, the playground can be made safe for the younger children. The sliding pole will be changed to a vertical ladder.

Some upper-body equipment will remain at 84 inches high, so older children will have challenging play, Mr. Malkusak said. The new horizontal ladder with the “dip” will be a free-standing structure in the area for the 5-12-year olds, he said, adding that he hoped the budget would permit a ladder as long as the present one – 13 feet.

Materials and Character

The new equipment will be made of green treated wood, said Mr. Malkusak. “There won’t be staining or painting. The color will look like tree wood, and over time, it will darken,” he said.

No trees will be removed, so the park will keep its natural shade. The ground cover will be the same – ground wood-fiber bark, said Mr. Malkusak.

Although there had been talk of installing a bathroom in the park, the cost would be prohibitive – possibly $750,000 said City Engineer Lara Biggs. “At one point the bathroom came off the table and was never put back on,” she said but added that there will be a water fountain. The fence at the park will be the same, she said.

The park, built in large part by volunteer labor, funded through neighborhood effort, and named by school children because of the pennies saved and earned for the park, will now be renovated at public expense.

 “Elanar Construction is under contract. The [general obligation (GO)] bonds have already been issued. There is no additional fundraising requirement for the citizens, and no plan to ask citizens for funding,” said Ms. Biggs.

The projected cost of the renovations is $478,000, and $500,000 has been budgeted.

Reactions, Responses, and Next Steps

Penny Park resident Lauren Barski, who essentially led a revolt against the renovations proposed two years ago by Leathers, Inc., said, “I really think it looks fantastic. I want to thank [Alderman] Peter [Braithwaite] and the City and staff.”

None of the other audience members – about two dozen – spoke, but they applauded Mr. Malkusak’s presentation.

Mike Prefontaine of Elanar Construction said an 8-foot construction fence would soon surround the park. He said he anticipated that there would be no curtain inside the fence, so residents would be able to watch the new park being built. Elanar plans to begin construction next month and to have the park completed in December, he said, adding the company feels that is a “comfortable timeline.”

Ald. Braithwaite said he would like to plan a party in the park “before it is buttoned up.”

Mr. Malkusak, Mr. Prefontaine, and City officials made a similar presentation in the Parasol Room of the Civic Center on Aug. 18.


Mary Gavin

Mary Gavin is the founder of the Evanston RoundTable. After 23 years as its publisher and manager, she helped transition the RoundTable to nonprofit status in 2021. She continues to write, edit, mentor...