City Council affirms new direction for Penny Park renovations


Daniel Tian/Daily Senior Staffer

Ald. Jane Grover (7th) said at Monday’s City Council meeting that the new plan to rehabilitate rather than demolish Penny Park presents a good balance between maintaining the park’s safety and the community’s desire for preservation. Aldermen voted to terminate its contract with the current contractor.

Julia Jacobs, City Editor

Aldermen approved Monday a plan to renovate rather than demolish Penny Park, ending the city’s contract with the current developers and affirming community inclusion in the park’s future design.

City Council voted to terminate its contract with Leathers & Associates — paying the firm $40,000 for completed work — and to open applications for contractors to rehabilitate the park with wooden materials. The move requires that applications include options for both traditional contractors as well as community organizations with an additional line ensuring involvement of interested residents in the planning process.

The renovations are estimated to cost $500,000.

The unanimous decision — about nine months in the making — prompted applause and cheers from audience members who spoke to aldermen before the vote about the success of the plan after the community became involved.

“It has been inspiring — not just to me, but to residents of all ages and backgrounds,” said Lauren Barski, who founded Preserve Penny Park, an organization advocating for keeping the park’s original layout.

In January, City Council requested further discussion by the Parks and Recreation Board after hearing community opposition to the plan by Leathers & Associates. Because the current park, located at 1500 Lake St., required updates to comply with ADA standards, the firm initially proposed demolishing the wood playground to replace it with a plastic one with restrooms and a pavilion.

Barski said the demolition trucks were “at the ready,” before the community demanded the city made a more fully informed opinion about whether the park needed to be completely rebuilt.

“If we destroy Penny Park, how are we going to explain to our children what it means to be a member of the community of Evanston?” Evanston resident Cynthia Rivera asked aldermen Monday before the vote.

Further inspection of the 25-year-old park in April found that despite regular maintenance it had reached the end of its “useful life.” However, the external firm that inspected the playground found the city could renovate the park without demolishing it entirely, recommending measures such as replacing rotting wood, repairing broken hardware and preserving the wooden structure on a regular basis.

The Parks and Recreation Board voted unanimously last month to recommend the city rehabilitate rather than demolish the park. The board’s president Daniel Stein told aldermen every resident who wanted to was able to raise issues for discussion.

Ald. Jane Grover (7th) said the board’s proposal managed to balance the safety and longevity of the park with the intangible meaning the park has to residents, which was the city’s ultimate goal.

Barski said steps such as the inspection allowed the city to make a more educated decision with the understanding that the wooden structure beloved by residents was still considered an acceptable building material despite the original firm’s opposition to it.

“They took this mess from us and fixed it,” Ald. Ann Rainey (8th) said at the meeting. “We might be sending them some other items soon.”

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