By Jean Lotus
Forest Parkers braved the rain and wind Thursday evening to give their input into planning the future of the Park District of Forest Park. About 50 citizens filled the second-floor meeting room to look at blown-up photo representations of possible uses of space: a gymnasium, party rooms, fitness equipment, classrooms along with landscaping, a pavilion and walking trails. Residents filled out cards listing the activities they wanted the new space to provide and placed colored dots on photos they liked.
But it turns out architects already had an initial plan drawn up which they presented to the board during its regular meeting but after most audience members had left.
It was a matter of being eligible for grant money from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, and two grant deadlines March 10 and March 20 that could result in funds for up to 75 percent of the construction costs.
"We still want public input," said Park Director Larry Piekarz. The board will release an internet survey asking what residents wanted to do with the 2.5 acre "Roos parcel" in the next couple of months, he said.
Frank Parisi and Tom Poulos of Williams Architects in Itasca and Landscape Designer Bill Inman of Hitchcock Design Group in Chicago said they wanted to give Forest Park the best shot at nabbing funds from the two grants. They told the board they created plans the granting agencies would find the most appealing.
"This may not be the final design, but we want to submit a plan that has elements favorable to attain the PARC grants," Parisi told the board.
The Illinois DNR offers the Parks and Recreation Facility Construction (PARC) grant. Up to 75 percent of a new facility project's costs can be covered by the state. Up to $200,000 is available through the Open Space Lands Acquisition and Development (OSLAD) program. The park district would use those funds, if received, for landscape and outdoor features around the recreation facility.
What were the features that made a PARC grant likely?
"Active recreation is what they're looking for," said Parisi. "The DNR is looking for a menu of options that affect as many types of visitor as possible."
The basic plans submitted to the board showed just the footprints of a building and grounds, without any architectural finishes. The plans included an 8,000 sq. foot gymnasium – large enough for a college-regulation sized basketball court, and sub-dividable into smaller courts by a curtain. A running/walking track circled the courts.
Attached to the building with a separate entrance was a 3,000 sq. foot fitness center. The plan also showed two multipurpose rooms totaling 1,460 sq. ft. One was earmarked for activities for the West Suburban Special Recreation Association (WSSRA) with whom the park district has a long-standing relationship. The building could be expanded in the future with a second floor on the fitness center and an expansion of the gym to the north, architects said.
The landscape elements of the plan included walking trails, a pavilion and bicycle parking for the CTA stop.
The landscape also included a depressed area for floodwater retention, mandated by the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District. This was designed to cover half an acre with a two- foot incline for "100 year storms," architects said. "It drains down in 24 hours," they said. When there was no storm, the grass-covered area would be used as part of the open space, they said. The plan also permitted access to the village's pump-house at the far north-east end of the site.
Plan elements were first suggested by community input the park district received in 2010 when the ideas were proposed to purchase the Roos building and pass a referendum to pay for it, architects said.
Commissioner Cathleen McDermott specifically asked about areas for teen activities and a space that was dedicated to young people. Parisi said the lengthy lobby area could be decorated as a teen space, "With lots of wifi, because they love their phones."
Piekarz also pointed out the historic Park District Administrative building, built by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) in the 1930s would be freed up for activities and classrooms when the new structure was erected. Some ideas for new uses for that space included an art gallery and display space for the Historical Society of Forest Park.
What wasn't included was an indoor pool, which more than one participant said was on their wish list.
There is competition for the PARC grant. The Park District of Oak Park also had a public hearing this week in preparation for a PARC grant proposal. But Piekarz said the park district had been lobbying hard to get local politicians and the state park district association on board to champion Forest Park.
Piekarz was quick to insist nothing was written in stone, and architects referred to the plan as a "first pass" and a "first broad stroke," saying details could be added later.
"This is a footprint that addresses the needs we've heard," architects said.