When a Park Needs a Friend
by Gary Balling, CLP, and Diane Stanke
"Mansfield Park is a wonderful example of what can happen when residents get involved with their park district and they work together toward a common goal."
"Help Us Build Mansfield Park" became the theme for the renovation of one of Morton Grove's most popular parks. Used for intense as well as passive recreation purposes, Mansfield Park encompasses 3.5 acres of parkland. It was acquired and developed in 1954 and since that time it received limited maintenance and had been severely overused by park patrons. It was time to take action! Who knew the number of challenges that would lie ahead before final project completion in fall 1994 including financial setbacks, the creation of a citizens action group, a successful grant application, and numerous renovation phases.
In 1988, a series of neighborhood meetings were held to discuss the renovation of Mansfield Park. This park had beautiful mature trees, a one-room field house that was 30+ years old, outdated playground equipment, two Little League baseball fields, and a basketball court. Joyce Lipner, a parent attending a neighborhood meeting, stated in a 1989 Morton Grove Champion article, "I have friends who have been here since the 1950s and they show me pictures of the parks and they look exactly the same now as they looked then." Through these meetings, neighbors of the park indicated that they would like updated playground equipment, walkways, drainage improvements to the playground and ball fields, a renovated basketball area, and more trees.
Utilizing input received from the community meetings, a master plan was completed and costs were tallied. The final bill was projected at nearly $200,000 with $35,000 needed for new playground equipment alone. Since the park district had only allocated $25,000 for this portion of the redevelopment, it faced a dilemma. Al Davis, landscape architect for the Mansfield Park Project, stated "Mansfield Park has the potential to be a wonderful neighborhood park. With good planning and sufficient funds, it can become a park the entire community can be proud of and enjoy." It was time to create a partnership.
Neighbors were quick to assess that they would not be getting as much play apparatus as they once had. This was the result of a lack of funds as well as strict demands from the Consumer Product Safety Guidelines which call for resilient surfaces, fall zones, and increased safety. These guidelines did not exist in the 1950s when the original playground was developed. With the need for more playground equipment in mind, neighbors formed a group of citizens interested in raising funds for Mansfield Park as well as enhancing the efforts being made by the park district throughout the community. Sandy Wiczer, a founding member of Park Partners, said, "The park district couldn't go beyond its budget, so we took it upon ourselves to improve our parks and Park Partners was born."
The first phase of the project was the installation of a new playground in the fall of 1989. The park board was assisted by members of Park Partners in cutting the ceremonial ribbon wrapped around the tire swing made possible by this new com-
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munity group. Other new equipment included tot and intermediate climbing apparatuses with slides, tot and adult swings, a seesaw and space shuttle on springs, and a number of picnic and sitting benches. In Phase II, the basketball court was updated, and the fencing on the Little League backstops were replaced. Phase III consisted of the remodeling of the field house with new windows, doors, lighting, and cabinetry. Most importantly, the entrances and restrooms at the field house were made accessible for persons who are physically disabled or mobility impaired.
MANSFIELD GRANT SOUGHT
Phase IV, the final phase—with a price tag of nearly $300,000—could only become a reality with the help of a grant from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. In July 1993, the park board applied for a 50/50 matching Open Space Lands Acquisition and Development (OSLAD) grant. The board was determined to secure $150,000 in grant monies to fund the master plan construction costs. These plans included the development of a trail system in the park, walkway lighting, picnic tables and benches, improved athletic fields through a special under drainage system, and an expanded and upgraded play apparatus area to meet ADA standards and current Consumer Product Safety Guidelines. The Morton Grove Park District was notified in January 1994 that it would be the recipient of a grant for the Mansfield Park Project. In spite of earlier uncertainty about project completion, Phase IV would become a reality.
"With the assistance of the Illinois Department of [Natural Resources], Mansfield Park has become a classic example of the adaptive reuse of an existing park in a highly urbanized area. By directly incorporating community input into the planning and development process and by using OSLAD funds, Mansfield Park now reflects the needs of the resident and provides a variety of recreation opportunities for all ages and abilities," said Mick Rosendahl, Grant Administrator for the DNR.
MANSFIELD PARK BLOOMS
In the spring of 1995, park users enjoyed the deep pink, red, and white colors of the newly planted ornamental trees in Mansfield Park. A total of fifty new trees were planted as part of the completed renovation project. Mansfield Park has become a favorite site for our preschool program not only because of field house improvements but because the instructors can maximize their use of the outdoors. The park site continues to be a popular location for Little League games and American Youth Soccer Organization practices. During the summer, our Kiddie Kamp calls Mansfield Park home. Most importantly, the surrounding neighbors who took the time to let us know what they wanted and needed can now enjoy the variety of recreational opportunities that Mansfield Park offers.
Upon final completion of the Mansfield Park Redevelopment Project, Park Board President Eileen Coursey commented, "Mansfield Park is a wonderful example of what can happen when residents get involved with their park district and they work together toward a common goal."
Diane Stanke is the Community Services Supervisor and Gary Balling, CLP, is the Administrative Manager for the Morton Grove Park District.
26 • Illinois Parks & Recreation • July/August 1995
Sam S. Manivong, Illinois Periodicals Online Coordinator