Evanston residents voice opposition to Penny Park redesign process

Paige Leskin, City Editor

Evanston residents who have raised concern about the redevelopment of Penny Park met for the first time last week to discuss the group’s goals for the future of the park.

The organization, Preserve Penny Park, was formed to bring community members together who were unhappy with the city’s lack of transparency regarding the renovation process of Penny Park, Evanston resident Lauren Barski told The Daily on Friday.

The initial meeting, which took place Nov. 10, was held to distribute information and initiate communication on how to accomplish their final goals and get what they want from city staff, Barski said.

“I wanted the opportunity to provide some background material to those interested, background on why I found the ground, background on my history of my involvement with Penny Park,” she said. “We believe the park belongs to the community as a whole, the entire Evanston community.”

As one of the founders of the group, Barski said she has been a big supporter of the park, 1500 Lake St., which falls in the 2nd Ward where she resides. She said she has maintained regular contact with city officials through the park’s renovation process, which started with a public meeting in March.

However, Barski said she found herself caught off guard when the city announced that final plans for the redesign will be ready in January 2015.

Preserve Penny Park is now calling on city officials to make residents more involved in the renovations, Barski said.

“The general premise is getting back to basics. We believe that the city should revise the concept … to stop the demolition of the park,” she said. “We’re asking the city to make the park, the entire park process, 100 percent transparent, from concept development all the way through construction.”

The city made plans to completely transform the park due to the playground’s outdated equipment, which was made more than 20 years ago,  Ald. Peter Braithwaite (2nd) told The Daily in March.

The improvements to the park will put it in line with guidelines set by the Americans with Disabilities Act, he said.

“It’s one of the most used parks in Evanston,” Braithwaite said in March. “It draws from a very large range of people.”

City Council approved the contractor for the park’s renovation at its Oct. 13 meeting. The firm Leathers & Associates, who initially designed the park, is planning to construct it based on community feedback. Staff met in March with students at Dewey Elementary School and Cherry Preschool to gather their input and ideas for the redesign.

Barski called for the city to host more public meetings open to all members of the Evanston community, saying the city has not had enough before finalizing its design.

Suzette Robinson, the city’s director of public works, said staff have hosted a sufficient number of meetings for community members. The city is hosting another meeting Dec. 11 at Evanston/Skokie School District 65 headquarters, which will be open to all residents before the design is completed in January 2015, Robinson said.

City staff hopes to begin construction in August 2015 and host two community meetings in February and May before construction starts.

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