The Park District of Forest Park’s popular pool and its sparkling new splash pad will open for the season on May 28, the next phase in an “exciting” period of growth for the park district, according to Executive Director Jackie Iovinelli.
Season passes for the Aquatic Center go on sale this week, Friday, April 1, at a cost of $88 for Forest Park residents and $149 for nonresidents. Family and senior discounts are available. Prices increased by 10% this year, Iovinelli said, due to the state minimum wage rising to $12 per hour.
The new three-section splash pad will give pool-goers plenty of new space to spread out and enjoy the sun and warm weather, whenever it arrives, and a season pass — daily passes are also available — gives users access to the pool, pad and the rest of the center’s amenities. Iovinelli said the pool can draw as many as 1,000 people a day and part of the pad’s function, she hopes, will be to thin the large crowds.
“We want to spread the deck out and make it where people are everywhere, as opposed to on top of each other in one area where they’re all attracted,” she said.
Construction crews are still at work completing the splash pad, but Iovinelli said she’s received assurances from the contractors heading up the project that work will be completed in time for opening day.
“We meet weekly with them,” she said. “We meet with our architect, the contractors and then our staff, and now we’re down to a daily schedule. We have a calendar four weeks out that has each day, each week, who’s on site and what’s taking place.”
The new splash pad, however, is just one piece of what has been an ongoing renovation and expansion of the park district’s facilities on Harrison Street.
The Roos Recreation Center, primarily a gym and exercise facility, opened in 2018 and Iovinelli said that within six months, demand for the gym had outgrown the space. Initially, administrators wanted to expand the Roos, but a grant for such a building project was denied in 2019 and officials have had to pivot since then.
Now comes the news, earlier this month, that the park district is in the process of purchasing a nearly one-block plot across Harrison from the park district’s main facilities, a stretch that includes the former Oak Leaf Lounge and The Pines restaurant, both of which have been long closed. Once that sale is complete — it is scheduled to close in late April — and the existing buildings are razed, ideally sometime this year, the park district plans to build a new indoor facility specifically for day camp attendees and other park district programs, all of which have grown immensely popular since the dawn of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’re putting out programs for adults, kids and they fill by the time we even have to advertise them,” Iovinelli said. “People want to do stuff so bad, we just don’t have any more space.”
Day camp programming for kids has been particularly impacted by the lack of space, with the current camp operating out of what was once housing for the park’s Zamboni.
“We’re not going to be able to fit all of our kids, and to have to turn kids away for camp is disheartening,” Iovinelli said. “We never want to get to that point.”
The park district has also offered a growing menu of adult programming, including recurring series like the popular Sips and Crafts that combine adult beverages with works of art.
“Right now we’re just growing and we’re going to try and keep up with it,” Iovinelli said. “We’re not going to build hoping they come, we’re going to build to be able to serve them. We’re trying to just maintain what we have, and we’re going to build to that, but we’ll always build knowing that we may have to expand in the future.”
To that end, Iovinelli said plans to expand the Roos Recreation Center are “on hold” but notably not off the table, although the priority at the moment is the new multi-purpose facility.
That new facility could break ground, in a best-case scenario, in late 2023. Iovinelli said the park district has secured the funds through capital reserves to close on the sale of the property and demolish the buildings, but significant new funding will need to be secured to build the facility before shovels hit the ground.
“The cost of construction is high and putting up a brand new building on an empty space is not going to be inexpensive,” she said, “but once we get everything in place, our next steps are financially how can we navigate this.”
For now, the park district’s full slate of offerings will continue to be held in the Roos and the park district’s administrative building. For a full list of upcoming events and programs, visit pdofp.org.