The Park District of Forest Park weathered the pandemic better than expected in terms of finances and is ready to embark on major capital projects. That was the optimistic message for the new fiscal year sent by Jeff Murphy, the district’s business superintendent, during a June 7 meeting of the park district’s commissioners.

While the park district is still waiting for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources to process its Open Space Lands Acquisition and Development (OSLAD) grant application to help fund the renovation of Reiger Park, 1526 Circle Ave., it’s looking to make headway on the renovations of Remembrance Park at 7341 Randolph St. and Popelka Park at the corner of Adams Street and Thomas Avenue. It’s also planning to clear the recently purchased Pines Restaurant and the Oak Leaf Lounge property, 7400-7412 Harrison St., with the goal of building a new facility that, among other things, will allow the park district to significantly expand its popular day camp program. The park district is also expected to grow its programming and continue to rent out more spaces, which has proven to be an unexpected boon for it during the pandemic. 

With the budget preview released, the park district must have the budget available for public review upon request for at least 30 days. The board of commissioners is expected to approve the budget during one of its July meetings. 

The park district’s fiscal year begins on July 1 and ends on June 30 of the following year. Executive Director Jackie Iovinelli said that, overall, the next fiscal year’s budget is lower than this year’s, going from $4,931,917 in the 2021-2022 fiscal year to $4,903,837 in the 2022-2023 fiscal year. 

But that doesn’t mean the park district is pulling back from any capital projects – quite the opposite. 

“If I was to give you a phrase or idea for what the park district will be facing next year, I would say ‘growth,’” Murphy said.

The proposed capital budget is $1,224,737. Iovinelli said the district does not have the exact breakdown of how that money would be spent until they finish the design for all three projects. The capital budget item is a rolling fund, so whatever won’t get spent during the next fiscal year is simply rolled over into the following year. 

When the park district took over management of the four village-owned pocket parks in 2020, it wanted to start improvements with Reiger Park, 1526 Circle Ave. But the project can’t move forward without the OSLAD grant, not just because of the funding, but because the grant won’t fund projects that started beforehand. The park district shifted priority to two other pocket parks – Remembrance and Popelka. 

Iovinelli said the park district hopes to finalize the design by the end of the month, with the goal of completing the project this year – with the caveat that the supply chain issues that delayed the completion of the new splash pad adjacent to the pool could slow down these projects as well.

With the newly acquired Pines/Oak Leaf property, the park district’s first priority is to demolish the existing buildings. Iovinelli said, once it happens, they will go to the community to help develop the exact plan for the site, but they generally hope to build a “much-needed indoor multipurpose space.”

Murphy told the commissioners the district hopes the new space will allow them to expand their day camp program, which is currently at capacity.

“Almost every week has a waitlist, so we’re missing revenue opportunities just because we’re out of space,” he said. “When we [build] this building across the street, it would give us more room to accommodate anyone that desires to be in our program.”

When asked whether this “growth mode” would extend to park programming as well, Murphy said the park district “is going to see growth in other areas, programs, members, activities at the Roos  [Recreation Center].”

Murphy said that, since 2018, the budgets have been fine-tuned to keep better track of expenses.  This helped the park district make money even during COVID-19 spikes.

“Last year, [we made] not a lot of money, but we made money,” Murphy said. “By keeping track of those expenses more accurately, [Superintendent of Facilities Andrew Doss] knows how he’s doing at Roos.”

He also said that the pandemic opened their eyes to just how much space they can rent out, and it has been “a fantastic way of making money.”

“[For the 2021-2022 fiscal year], we budgeted $15,000 and made $41,000,” Murphy said. “We’re anticipating for that to continue into 2022-2023.”

He added that they budgeted $40,000 in rental revenues, just to be on the safe side.

When asked whether the splash pad delay would hurt summer revenues, Iovinelli told the commissioners that there was only a “six-pass difference” in the number of people who purchased pool passes. She noted that revenue tends to vary greatly week-to-week depending on the weather.