Evanston aldermen Monday approved a contract to complete the redesign of Penny Park despite claims from one resident that the project isn’t necessary.

Lauren Barski, who lives across from the park on Florence Avenue said the 23-year-old playground equipment at park doesn’t need to meet current accessibility standards and disputed city staff claims that the wooden play structures are failing where wood supports are buried in the ground.

But several other residents spoke in favor of the project.

Patrick Hughes, who owns Inclusion Solutions, an Evanston business that sells devices for businesses to aid disabled customers, said making the park accessible for everyone is important, and said even some schools in Evanston have only recently been made accessible.

Kelly Elwood brought her children to the meeting. She said Penny is her kids’ favorite park but said the current structures make it easy for kids to disappear from view — causing anxiety for their parents. Her daughter, Elizabeth, though, said what she likes best at the park is “to play hide and seek with mommy.”

Alderman Peter Braithwaite, whose 2nd Ward includes Penny Park, said he was involved as a college student in the original community-build effort for the park and last weekend drove to Valparaiso, Ind., to watch another park building project conducted by Leathers and Associates, the firm that organized the original Penny Park project here and that the city has selected to do the rebuild.

Braithwaite said his visit to Valparaiso made him undersand the importance of accessible design in the new park and that many aspects of the current playground are not accessible.

Public Works Director Suzette Robinson said the park planning process has been going on since last year and that additional community meetings would be held to develop the conceptual design for the park that exists now.

She added that what has been designed so far would cost roughly $300,000 to build and the budget for the project is $450,000 so one goal of the additional meetings will be to determine what additional amenities can be added to the project.

Related story

City to award Penny Park design contract

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. Have money, will spend it, don’t have money will also spend it

    I'm all for nice parks but i question the priority of spending almost $1/2 million dollars on redoing a park that's currently in good shape. With the improvements in technology and innovation there are great new equipment and "toys" that EVERY park in Evanston could benefit from. My kids use Penny Park and enjoy it. It's not a run down, decrepit park in disrepair. Yes it can be improved but to spend almost $1/2 million is unbelievable.

    There are roads that need to be fixed, and sewer pipes to upgrade, and oh, by the way, debt to be repaid. Yes, Evanston has a lot of debt and it's growing.

    I guess this is how you get votes in Evanston. 


    1. An interesting and unique park

      My kids play at this park quite often as one of them is a student at Cherry Preschool next door. It is an interesting and unique park that is not in need of a total overhaul. Soon every playground in the area is going to be a page from the Landscape Structures catalog!

  2. What are they thinking?

    Penny park is nice the way it is now…why spend so much money foxing something is not even broken. and adults love this park, is unique…. Big mistake!

  3. Leave it alone

    We walk, skooter or ride bikes from Grove / Chicago to visit Penny Park. My 5 year old loves the park and I like the diverse crowd. If needed, make minor fixes like any other park. If you have not been to this park, please visit before you suggest. 

  4. Have any of the council

    Have any of the council members even seen Penny Park. I did this morning and could find very little that needed repair or replacement. I would think that needed fixes or replacements.would easily cost under 5k. Why does the council want to spend so much. The people of Evanston appear to be getting nothing from this. Is there somebody in city hall that will gain from this spending?

    1. Call Them Out

      skipw: You obviously know the names of the "folks" (or their relatives, cronies) in city hall who you suspect will gain from this project. Please cease with your passive-aggressive haranguing and identify them. Thanks!

      1. billyjoe,


        Either the council members have not visited the park and seen that it is still in excellent condition or they are voting to replace it for some other reason. Whatever that reason might be, it is not in the interest of Evanston citizens and taxpayers. The reason is that there is something else at play and they do not feel that we have the right to know what goes on behind doors.  Usually,the only debate that goes on at council meetings is between citizen speakers and what the council has already decided before the meeting.

        Why don't you suggest some of the reasons why the council voted to push this half of a million dollar project forward or don't you care.

  5. I’ve lived about 2 blocks

    I've lived about 2 blocks away from penny park for several years now and my young kids go there frequently.  Its okay, but it is showing its age and plenty of the features don't work quite right.  We've played at other structures by the same design company that are newer than this one, and the composite material they are made of is fine. They are all still very unique structures, not the run of the mill plastic stuff you see at 90% of playgrounds these days. Also as someone mentioned at the meeting, it's really difficult to keep an eye on your kids with the structure built as it is now.  I support the redesign plan.

  6. What comes first?

    "Public Works Director Suzette Robinson said the park planning process has been going on since last year and that additional community meetings would be held to develop the conceptual design for the park that exists now."

    How often have we seen this? There is pushback from the community then in an effor to placate, the Director states there will be community meetings. There is something seriously wrong with the City's planning process when the Public Works department spends a great deal of time and money on planning WITHOUT the involvement of the Community in the initial phases. The Bike Plan is a prime example and now we see it is happening again with Penny Park. The community is only involved late in the process, once the decisions are made, I contend. 

    1. Meetings

      Hi Louise,

      The premise of your comment is faulty. There were public meetings about the Penny Park project — starting well over a year ago.

      We even had announcements about some of them here on Evanston Now. Here are items from April 2013 and from March of this year.

      Given how many meetings there are in this town, it does become difficult to be aware of them all — but that doesn't mean the meetings never happened or that they were held in secret.

      — Bill

    2. Pushback Backpedal

      Louise, I think you make an excellent point, and I encourage you to take a look at the documentation of how this process unfolded on my group's website, While, as Bill notes, there were 2 community meetings before the new park "rendering" (or whatever the city wants to call it) was unveiled, none of the suggestions/input from community members made at the unveiling meeting– apart from the addition of a pavillion and the city's claim that it would like to add a bathroom but there's no budget for it– are included in the current "rendering." And, according to the contract the City just signed with the design company, there are no more community meetings between now and the presentation of the "Final Design." (You can view the contract, as well as the proposed schedule, on our group site). The contract also describes the design phase as "Already Completed."  When I raised these points to the City Council at the meeting last week, Dir. Robinson was called upon to attempt to clarify exactly whether or not the design phase is already completed– per the (now signed) contract, or is not already completed- per the city's more public statements…I imagine you can guess the answer. Apaprently, the contract should have said the next presentation was of a "Preliminary Design"…and I honestly couldn't even follow how she explained away the "Design Phase (already completed)". This was about 5 minutes before she said Leathers & Associates doesn't build parks with lumber anymore, which was about 30 minutes after Ald. Braithwaite had just finished telling everyone about his informative and educational trip to Valparasio, Ind., where Leathers & Associates is working with a community to rebuild a park they built 20 years ago. They are rebuilding it with lumber.
      I hope you'll join us at an upcoming community meeting to discuss these and other issues. Details will be posted on the website soon.

      1. Lauren,

        Thanks for stating what we all know: the Department of Public Works may hold community meetings during what should be the planning phases for such projects but community input is most often, if not always, ignored. Then there is a scramble to hold follow-up meetings once it is obvious there is still pushback, but these are not meant to be collaborative events. Instead, they are used to (try to) convince the community that the Department of Public Works has come up with the solution it has chosen to pursue. 
        I have just visited your excellent website, and it was my intention to attend the meeting on Monday. Having “participated” in the process of trying to modify the City’s Bike Plan, I was struck by the similarities with the plight of Penny Park. It follows an all-too-familiar pattern. There is something fundamentally wrong when the Department of Public Works does not work for the Public.


        1. New Park Meeting & Petition

          Janet and others, In an encouraging recent development, the City has decided replace the regularly scheduled Ward 2 Community meeting on December 11 with an all-community meeting to solicit broader input on the concept for Penny Park. Here's a link to the City's site for more information, and I hope you'll consider attending to make your voices heard: Also, my group (Preserve Penny Park) has started an online petition as one tool in our effort to raise awareness among the community and the City Council about residents' desires for Penny Park. Follow this link to read it and sign and spread the word if you like::

  7. Penny Park

    As one of the several hundred neighbors who spent a weekend some years ago building penny park, i feel quite attached to the place. My grandchildren always said, when they'd visit: "can we go to penny park, please, please". of course we always went. as a grandmother who is not of the helicopter-parent generation, i never was worried about not being able to see my grandkids every minute while we were in the park. there never seem to be any ax-murderers or child abductors around, nor have any been reported in the years (47) i have lived in the neighborhood. my questions: did the city have an analysis of the park structures as to their soundness and safety? did the city consider upgrades and improvements, as was mentioned by one of the commentors, rather than a complete redo? and is the leathers company going to ask the neighbors to be involved in the repairs, as we were in the original building of the park? I'll help. i do question the willingness to expend $1/2 million on this project, when, as someone else said, we have lots of other priorities that would seem to be ahead of this one. The council seems to have trouble setting priorities. That is worrisome, since, as Vito the commentor used to say, "money is a scarce resource too." Please rethink this project. — Mary Brugliera

    1. How about a bike track around it ?
      Clear out a few more blocks and put a bike track around the whole area [bridge over for pedestrians] to get weekend ‘Lance Armstrongs’ off the city streets and endangering everyone ?
      They not only endanger themselves, pedestrians [with all their cell phones/texting are not very sensible and walk into traffic] and sensible bikers, but cause cars which can do substantial damage, to swerve to avoid them and hit people and property.

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