They can’t wait: Even for the groundbreaking on the new splash pads at The Park. Igor Studenkov/Staff Photographer

As kids from a Park District of Forest Park day camp broke into the chant of “dig that hole!” park district and village officials broke ground on the new splash pads and other renovations east of the Forest Park Aquatic Center.

The groundbreaking took place on the afternoon of Sept. 9. When completed, the space will feature three splash pads that get increasingly complex the further north one goes, as well as several shade structures. The improvements will cost around $1.9 million, with the funding coming from the park district’s existing capital funds.

Jackie Iovinelli, park district executive director, said the park district is looking to better utilize a section of the park that’s currently little more than a concrete pad and a shade structure, relieving some of the crowding at the aquatic center in the process. She  expects construction to begin in a few weeks, and the construction is expected to finish in May 2022, in time for the start of the next summer season. 

The plans have been developed by the Naperville-based Hitchcock Design Group, the same firm that’s developing plans for Reiger Park renovations. According to the plans presented at the grand opening, the newly minted splash pad area will feature three separate splash pads. The Town Splash Pad at the south end of the grounds will feature hoops and larger spray fountains, with a snake-like pattern drawn across the pad. The Jousting Grounds splash pad will, as the name suggests, feature forward-facing water sprays that kids can aim at each other, along with a spray fountain in the middle. The Castle splash pad on the north side of the grounds will include a water slide and several smaller spray fountains. 

Iovinelli said the overall concept grew out of discussions between her, parks superintendent Ryan Russ and recreation supervisor Rachell Entler. During the summer of 2020, the park district wasn’t able to open the pool, which got them thinking about what they could do to make the space they have better for kids and teens. 

“Based on that, we solidified our commitment to start updating the aquatic center, slowly,” Iovinelli said. 

The scent coming from the nearby Ferrara Pan Candy Company, 7301 Harrison St., inspired the “Candyland” theme, with bright contrasting colors. The pad surfaces were patterned after game boards. 

In a follow-up interview,  Iovinelli said the long-term plan is to revamp the entire aquatic center, but that they’re taking it one step at the time. 

Members of park district’s Board of Commissioners, as well as Forest Park mayor Rory Hoskins and village commissioner (and former Review editor) Maria Maxham attended the groundbreaking, but Iovinelli was the only one who gave a speech. 

Later she said she hopes that the splash pads will be a better use of the space that will give more for the kids and relieve some of the crowds in the aquatic center.

“Our pool gets hundreds of people, and it gets pretty crowded,” Iovinelli said. “This is an underutilized space, so I hope [the splash pads] will give people more room to come and have a better experience.”