With 28 years of service behind him, Howard “Bud” Boy is the reigning patriarch of the park district in Forest Park, and he may not be done yet.
Boy is the president of the district’s board, and is one of three candidates running for a single available six-year term. His candidacy surprised people a bit, as it was assumed Boy would be retiring. Larry Piekarz, executive director of the parks, said he doesn’t recall ever hearing his most senior board member make such a declaration, but he acknowledged that many in the community assumed as much.
To that, Boy said folks were mistaken.
“Why would you assume without asking someone?” Boy said.
Squaring off with Boy in the April 7 election are two familiar faces who’ve long been involved with the recreation facilities on Harrison. Michael Espinosa is a former park district commissioner who served from 1999 to 2005, and again by appointment beginning in February 2006 until April 2007. Espinosa was also a member of the village’s planning commission, has volunteered with a local soccer program and oversaw Scout troops.
“I have experience, I’ve lived in Forest Park over 30 years now,” Espinosa said. “People know me and they know I’m honest.”
Also campaigning for the seat is Eric Entler, a lifelong resident who held a handful of summer jobs at the parks while growing up and has continued to volunteer there as an adult. Both Entler and his wife are members of the municipality’s youth commission, and he’s a regular attendee at park district board meetings.
“The community has been very good to my family … and I’m at a point in my life where I can give back, and I feel like I have a lot to offer,” Entler said.
Each of the three candidates said they’re in full support of trying to acquire a nearby industrial property that has sat vacant for years. That parcel, known as the Roos property, is slated to be rehabbed into a massive housing development, but work has apparently come to a halt.
Some four years ago, the park district was among those interested in developing the site, but decided it could not afford to do so. Again, finances may be a hurdle to overcome, but the idea is appealing, according to the candidates.
“No one thought this property would come back [to the market] in the same situation it was in four years ago,” Entler said. “This may sound cheesy, but that’s karma. There’s a reason it’s back out there.”
It is not yet clear whether the owners of the Roos are interested in selling, but Piekarz is attempting to open negotiations.
“I’d love to,” Espinosa said of buying the site, “but I know they don’t have the funds for it.”
Boy acknowledged that the park district has a limited ability to borrow, and further estimated that tax revenues will at least be flat for the next year. However, through the use of third-party money, he suggested that owning the Roos is an attainable goal.
“We are not sitting on our hands, and we’re researching every outlet we can find,” Boy said. “There are ways and means to acquire that property.”
The park district provides recreational programming to families in Forest Park, and is one of several stakeholders involved in recent discussions surrounding a possible teen center. The crux of those talks has been developing programs that will appeal to a specific demographic.
A regular lament of park district administrators, however, is that it can be tough to predict which offerings will draw participants. If re-elected, Boy said he would leave strategy sessions to the staff members who are paid to market worthwhile activities.
“I don’t have an answer,” Boy said of hit-or-miss attendance. “We’ve tried everything.”
Espinosa agreed that it is largely up to park staff to create and promote new opportunities for families, but generally, kids are less interested in outdoor activities. A derby race he helped create several years ago was wildly popular, said Espinosa, but only for a short time.
“You can campaign until you’re blue in the face,” Espinosa said.
Entler, however, said there is still much to improve in terms of promoting park district events, and it starts with technology. Online registration should be made simpler, and managed in a way that allows staff members to track participants, which may give clues to how families choose different programs, he said. Also, there’s an entire demographic of young families that is much more dependent on the Web for information. Regular e-mail updates would help raise the profile of the parks.
“The Web site should be a very interactive mode,” Entler said. “The current one is very plain and not very user-friendly.”
The candidates are expected to participate in an April 2 forum being held at the Forest Park Public Library from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.