Faced with a wave of opposition, including a bunch of petition signatures collected by a fifth grader, Evanston aldermen Monday voted to hand off the task of coming up with a plan to update Penny Park to the city’s Parks and Recreation Board.

Fifth-grader Katie Young of Colfax Street in northwest Evanston told aldermen she’d circulated a petition against the plan to replace existing playground equipment at the park during soccer practice and that many of her fellow players were shocked to hear about the park plans.

The park, on Lake Street between Ashland and Florence avenues, she said, is a place where she grew up, “and it has great hide-and-seek places.” She urged keeping the park the way it is.

Young was joined Monday night by a half-dozen or so grownups in criticizing the city’s plan to spend a half million dollars to replace wooden play structures that city staff argue are reaching the end of their useful life and don’t meet current accessibility and design standards.

The park was originally developed through a community building process in 1990, and despite the city’s decision to hire the same consulting firm used then and hold a half-dozen community meetings about the project so far, the “let’s do it” spirit of the original came back as a “don’t do it” theme from vocal neighbors this time.

It wasn’t clear Monday night whether the handoff to the appointed parks group will mean the project, scheduled to be completed this year, will have to be postponed until 2016.

Alderman Mark Tendam, 6th Ward, moved to send the issue to the parks panel, saying he thought the project should have started there in the first place.

Alderman Jane Grover, 7th Ward, said updating Penny Park has been part of the city’s capital plan for a number of years. “We don’t try to milk every year of useful life out of our equipment,” Grover said. “We want to get ahead of the game and not let the risk of accidents and injuries increase.”

Grover added that she was confident that once the project emerges from the review process “a redesigned Penny Park will give the city an even better park that serves as many people as possible.”

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Penny Park: Maybe just let it rot?

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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1 Comment

  1. Clarification re: Penny Park

    The article says that Katie "doesn't want Penny Park to change." And "she urged keeping the park the way it is."

    These comments do not accurately represent her views. In her speech she specifically stated, that "People who sign my petition want to upgrade and improve the park, but not demolish it and lose its special character." Later, she said, "You don't have to demolish Penny Park; you can change it, update it, and make it better."

    This context is important because many people understand that Penny Park is a 25 year old park. It needs to be fixed, improved, and made more accessible for all children. Both Katie and her parents agree with this view.

    Another point I would add pertains to fiscal responsibility. Budgeting $500,000 to demolish and rebuild Penny Park seems to be an extremely expensive proposition especially in light of the continued financial challenges of the City of Evanston and its residents. Can't the City and the community come up with a plan that enhances and improves Penny Park, yet maintains its unique character and appeal for $100,000 – 200,000? 

    I think we can.

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