Editor’s note: This story has updated to remove reference to MKSK as Indiana-based.

More than 20 Evanstonians turned out Thursday, March 23 to discuss proposed improvements to Independence Park at Central Street and Stewart Avenue. 

Some two dozen people attended the meeting at the Chandler-Newberger Community Center to discuss Independence Park improvements. Credit: Manan Bhavnani

Design firm MKSK presented three draft concepts for the 1.4-acre site, which was last renovated in 1994.

Some of the proposals emphasized the natural features of the park, with other concepts suggesting enhancements to the playground and building.

  • Concept A seeks to largely maintain the park as it currently stands, with the addition of an arched promenade and improvements to the picnic grove and the playground area.
  • Concept B focuses on play area enhancements with an expanded playground, larger walking paths and seat walls. 
  • Concept C reimagines the site as a community space, with a new streetscape on Central Street.

“It’s nice that they’re collecting so much feedback. It really feels like we’re being heard,” said Liz Berliant, a Seventh Ward resident . A frequent visitor to the park with her two children, she said concepts B and C stood out to her, as she would like the renovated site to be nature-based.

Since it was last renovated, the park is facing a number of issues, including deteriorating infrastructure, lack of accessibility and nonconformance with current playground safety standards, according to the city website.

Donny Zellefrow, an associate at MKSK, speaks at the Thursday meeting on Independence Park concepts. Credit: Manan Bhavnani

MKSK’s site analysis found the park has a number of aging crab apple, syracuse and maple trees that pose a safety risk.

“Trees don’t grow overnight and they will not be there forever. We need to start planning now for the 10, 20, 30, 40 years,” Donny Zellefrow, an associate at MKSK, told the crowd at the meeting at the Chandler-Newberger Community Center.

Neighbors at the meeting asked whether the city can reuse playground equipment in the renovation.

“Over time, playground standards and safety standards for the equipment change. This equipment is old enough that it just does not meet all of these requirements,” responded Lara Biggs, the city’s capital planning and engineering bureau chief.

A community member shares her input on proposed concepts presented by MKSK at the meeting. Credit: Manan Bhavnani

Community members also asked about public bathrooms at the park, which city staff said would increase the project’s costs, with portable toilets being a more cost-effective option. 

“In recent years when people are requesting that ability and as we’re getting more intensive use of our parks, we’re reaching into this, providing porta-potties on a fairly regular basis,” Biggs said.

The Thursday gathing was a follow-up to a prior meeting in January, with another session set for May. The timeline tentatively calls for the project to be completed by fall 2024.

“I’m just excited to take this project to a place where we see a reinvigorated Independence Park take shape,” Zellefrow said.

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Manan Bhavnani

Prior to joining the RoundTable, Manan Bhavnani covered business and technology for the International Business Times, with a focus on mergers, earnings and governance. He is a double Medill graduate, with...

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