Evanston officials are moving forward on re-opening playgrounds such as Penny Park at Lake Street and Florence Avenue for use, stressing that social distancing and other practices to limit exposure to the coronavirus are to be practiced. Photo by Bob Seidenberg

City crews will begin removing the caution yellow tape barring use of Evanston playgrounds and basketball courts this week, with officials’ giving a cautious okay to reopening those facilities.

The Evanston Public Library is planning to make access to its computer stations at the main public library, 1703 Orrington Ave., available in a few weeks.

But the moves come with an equally big cautionary warning from officials that residents should continue to follow social distancing and other practices that experts have prescribed to limit exposure to the Covid-19 disease. 

Oh – one other thing – it’s BYOS – “Bring Your Own Sanitizer. 

“Unfortunately, we will not be cleaning the playgrounds,” said the City’s Parks, Recreation, & Director Lawrence Hemingway, joining other City officials in a Q&A session with Mayor Stephen Hagerty June 30. “But what the message that is important to the community is that if you choose to allow your children to play on a playground, that you practice social distancing while you are on those playgrounds.” 

Mayor Hagerty called for the session, which can be viewed by going to the City’s Covid-19 page on the City’s website, cityofevanston.org

“As everyone knows, we’ve moved from a Three, which was the recovery phase, into Phase Four, which is the revitalization phase,” said the Mayor, leading off the session. “I know there’s lots of people out there that are anxious to get re-opened, but also worried about what this may mean, particularly as we look at other states around the country who have seen a rapid rise in the number of new cases.” 

In Evanston, the mayor maintained that the numbers look good, noting, “we look at the seven-day moving average which continues to be about two cases a day.” 

In line with the improving situation, the City is moving forward, cautiously, with a number of openings. 


Currently, Mr. Hemingway said, “the State of Illinois has left the decision of opening up playgrounds to the local municipality. There have not been any guidelines issued from the state in regards to playgrounds. So the City of Evanston has decided to open up its playgrounds. And we will be moving forward with opening up the playgrounds by removing the caution tape that had been put up at the beginning of the pandemic.” 

Mr. Hemingway said his department will be working close with the City’s Health Department on guidelines that will posted at the playgrounds “to try to keep the community safe” while families use the facilities. 

City Health and Human Services Director Ike Ogbo, also participating in the Q&A, said the guidelines being drafted “are going to be quite, quite strict when it comes to our playgrounds,” given the nature of kids playing in the playground. 

“And all this is going to be, of course, on the parents to make sure that the kids have some social distancing and wear their masks.” 

With the City’s not cleaning the facilities, “we’ll leave it to the parent to bring sanitizing wipes to wipe the playground equipment if they must use these playgrounds,” he said. 

Mr. Ogbo said the guidelines for safe use will be posted on the City’s website and other communication channels. 

He noted that the risk of transmission at sites like playgrounds outside is regarded as low compared to indoor settings – one reason the Governor is leaving the decision to the discretion of municipalities, he said. 

Basketball Courts                                                                                                                                                                   Also closed since near the start of the pandemic, “I’m excited to say the City has also decided to open up our outdoor basketball courts at this time,” announced Mr. Hemingway. 

With some time needed to replace the basketball hoops, he estimated the courts will be back, in ready-to-play condition in five to 10 days. 

“But again,” he said, “I have to re-emphasize the safety component. It is allowable, but again, you need to practice and be smart as a resident while you’re out there, to keep yourself safe and others safe.” 

To that Mayor Hagerty added, “It’s imperative that all of us follow all of these public health guidelines. Because if we do start to see those numbers increase, don’t be surprised if the Governor’s office and the public health experts say, ‘Hey, we’re going to scale back some of these things.’ 

“And so, while we would never think it’s a privilege to use a basketball court or a playground, given that we’re in a pandemic right now, we need to do so just cautiously and following the rules, because I know none of us want to have to take a step back,” he said. 

The Evanston Public Library                                                                                                                                           Officials there are aiming to be opening up the main library in a limited capacity starting on July 13, to allow the public in to access computers and technology, said Timothy Longo, in charge of Access Services. 

The Library has been offering curbside pickup of books and materials now for several weeks (more at epl.org). 

As for when the branches might open, “that’s a lot harder decision right now to make due to the size of our branches,” Mr. Longo said, when asked in the Q&A, “so the branches reopening gate is still to be determined.” 

Beaches                                                                                                                                                                                 The beaches open today, July 1, the City announced earlier. Beach-users are required to wear masks when they enter a beach area. 

“And that’s to protect the staff as well as the individuals coming on to the beach,” Mr. Hemingway said. “Once they get on a beach, they’re welcome to take their mask off,” – obviously while underwater and also while socially distancing with friends, he said. 

Bob Seidenberg

Bob Seidenberg is an award-winning reporter covering issues in Evanston for more than 30 years. He is a graduate of the Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism.