Credit: Provided

Popelka Park will be getting a new, treehouse-themed playground, picnic benches and a park identification sign as part of improvements scheduled to begin next spring.

The Park District of Forest Park Board of Commissioners voted unanimously Dec. 15 to approve a contract with Minooka, Ill.-based Hacienda Landscaping, which submitted a $173,426 bid. The project is funded entirely from the park district’s capital budget. 

The project is part of the park district’s ongoing effort to improve the four village “pocket parks” since it took over responsibility for their maintenance in November 2020. Hacienda is expected to start work on April 15, 2023, with the goal of finishing up the project by Independence Day.

Under the deal between the village and the park district, Forest Park is leasing four out of six pocket parks to the district for the symbolic cost of $1 a year. The park district took over responsibilities for maintaining and improving them. It contracted Naperville-based Hitchcock Design Group to come up with the new designs. 

Funding for work on the two larger parks — Reiger Park, 1526 Circle Ave., and Remembrance Park, 7341 Randolph St — required state grants. The park district received a $400,000 Open Space Lands Acquisition and Development (OSLAD) state grant for Reiger Park improvements on July 8, and it applied for an OSLAD grant for Remembrance Park in September. 

During the Dec. 15 meeting, park district Executive Director Jackie Iovinelli said  work on Reiger Park is still expected to start next spring, and that they’re “crossing our fingers” that they get the grant for Remembrance Park.

Popelka Park, 501 Thomas Ave., is physically smaller than Rieger and Remembrance.  The renovations will keep the general layout, replacing the existing playground at the west section with a new, treehouse-themed playground that will include a new swing set. Iovinelli told the board that the new playground will be larger. She also mentioned that the playground design would accommodate kids with sensory issues.

Two picnic tables will be added in the middle of the park – one near the playground and one toward the south end. The park will get a new ornamental fence and a new park identification sign facing Adams Street. The existing memorials at the east corner of the park will be preserved. 

Commissioner Cathleen McDermott wondered whether the renovations would remove an existing drinking fountain, which isn’t marked in the project renderings. Iovinelli assured her the fountain won’t be affected.