In 1935, during the depths of the Great Depression, a group of Forest Parkers gathered in a house on Harrison Street and gazed at the bedraggled piece of property to the north. They vowed to raise the $115,000 in bonds necessary to purchase the 16-acre parcel. Following their hearts, instead of their wallets, the citizens of our community finally put the “park” in Forest Park.

Now, we’re in the depths of a great recession, with an opportunity to purchase 2.5 acres of blighted property to add precious green space to our park. We can also convert a red brick “white elephant” into a 21,000-square-foot recreational facility. All we have to do is vote yes to the referendum on Feb. 2.

Efforts to pass this referendum have been spearheaded by members of Friends of the Park. Among them, Rachell Entler and Kelly Crawford felt a special calling to expand and improve the park. After all, it was the centerpiece of their childhood, providing a sanctuary for sports and swimming and later a place to earn a modest salary. Kelly is still employed by the Park and Rachell’s husband, Eric, is a park commissioner.

Rachell is now the mother of two, living in the house where she grew up. She takes her kids to the pool and park district programs, but the town has changed from the days she roamed the neighborhood with friends. Such unsupervised play is no longer the norm. Rachell and Kelly have faith that an eyesore with broken windows can be converted into a safe environment where kids can hang out.

Not just kids – but seniors, too. They picture a combination teen/senior center with a computer lab, pool table and ping-pong. The seniors could use it during the day, with teens arriving in the late afternoon to enjoy some unstructured camaraderie. It would address two of Forest Park’s crying needs: indoor recreation and giving teens something to do.

The cost of purchase, development and operation is estimated at $6 million. Homeowners would be charged an additional $12 per $100,000 of assessed value. So far there has been strong support for passing the referendum, with few dissenting voices. Friends of the Park held fundraisers to pay for signs, postcards and newspaper ads. About $800 was raised when 140 people attended a pancake breakfast at the Harrison Street Café.

Such grassroots support is encouraging, but we still have to get out the vote. Turnout is typically light for a primary, but the park purchase gives us extra incentive to make it to the polls. Sure, we’ll be voting with our hearts instead of our wallets. The purchase, though, will ultimately raise our property values, while finally giving kids on corners a place to go.