The residents of Forest Park — 85% of those who returned the park district survey between Jan. 26 and Feb. 26 — said they want a multipurpose recreation building constructed on the now-empty former Roos property.

That’s what the board members of the Park District of Forest Park board members heard at their retreat last Saturday from the Executive Service Corps of Chicago (ESC) which analyzed the results. Survey Monkey online questionnaires were emailed to 1,700 respondents on the park district’s address list, links were provided at key locations throughout Forest Park, and a special outreach was made to seniors at the Forest Park Community Center. A total of 570 responses were received, which ESC says is better than average when it comes to surveys.

The survey results created a kind of wish list of changes respondents would like see in the parks in general and not just for the Roos property. Larry Piekarz, the park district’s executive director, said the list will guide the board’s strategic planning for the next five years. The list generated by the survey includes, in no particular order:

  • Online registration system 
  • Saturday office hours
  • Expand aquatic space
  • Add adult swim programs 
  • Cabanas
  • More walking trails
  • Gym
  • More green space 
  • More cultural programs 
  • More teen/tween programs 
  • Fix paths in park
  • Ice skating rink 
  • And more

Park commissioner Roy Sansone, who has been a board member for over 12 years, was struck by the “overwhelming response to put a multi-use facility on the Roos property.” The problem the board has in planning, he added, is that they will not only prioritize the wish list according to what Forest Parkers want, but have to carefully determine what the park can afford. 

“The $2.9 million that we didn’t get, which Gov. Rauner is holding, really sidetracks what we originally wanted to do,” he explained, “so we are going to go forward with a scaled-back version with plans for expansion if we ever do get that money in the future.”

“The survey,” Sansone added, “indicated that people wanted to expand the pool area to the west and to seal coat and restripe the parking lot, both of which the board is already working on.”

Park commissioner Matt Walsh was pleased at “the depth and breadth” of the responses. He was also glad to see that some of the items on the respondents’ wish list were programs the board already was working on. 

“The results reinforced what we were thinking,” he said, “and indicated that residents believe we are an important local entity and in line with what the community wants, which was kind of a boost for us. We’re mostly on the right path.”

Sansone explained that this is because board members have good communication with their neighbors. 

“I can’t go into Ed’s Way,” he said, “without someone asking me what’s going on with the Roos property. It happens all the time. I explain what’s happening and they respond with ‘OK, I understand now.'”

Walsh said communication between the public and the staff is also good. Staff is in The Park a lot more than the board members and does a lot of listening to the concerns of those who use it. They in turn communicate those concerns to the board.

Respondents gave high grades to the Aquatic Center (77%), the playground (66%), the soccer field (49%) and the softball fields (47%) with 70% of those completing the survey giving the highest grades to park staff.

The survey revealed that the reasons Forest Park residents did not use The Park were: not enough time, the kids are out of the nest, they don’t buy a pool pass, and poor weather. The indoor programs wanted most in a new indoor facility were a cardio-fitness room (77%), an indoor track (72%), and a gymnasium (71%).

“I think the biggest benefit of the survey as far as staff is concerned,” said Piekarz, “is that it gives us a roadmap of where the residents want the park district to go. My job is to put together the cost associated with each wish and then come back to the board and make a priority list. So we’re still not done with this process.”

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