Photo by Joe Boyle
The splash pad at Kasey Meadow Park in Hickory Hills has been dug up and will be replaced by a new concrete surface after state grant restrictions were lifted following Gov. Rauner signing a bill this summer.
The stopgap budget that was signed by Gov. Bruce Rauner in July provides a reprieve for a variety of state institutions until January when legislators have to come up with an agreement to avert another shutdown.
However, Jennifer Fullerton, executive director of the Hickory Hills Park District, is concerned with the present. With the governor’s signature in July, funding for a series of projects that had been suspended for the Kasey Meadow Park District is being worked on again.
During the budget stalemate, Rauner had frozen grant money for park district projects in January 2015. Park district officials from across the state lobbied Springfield by writing, calling and visiting with elected officials to pressure them to reverse the governor’s decision.
Fullerton was one of those park district officials who wrote letters to the governor. Rauner signed into law a stopgap budget that would free up to $26 million in grant funding for 75 projects across the state. The money is part of the state’s Open Space Land and Acquisition and Development (OSLAD) program.
The Hickory Hills Park District director said that when the governor froze the grant funding, it prevented construction of playground equipment in March 2015. The Hickory Hills Park District playground and splash pad equipment that was supposed to be sent on three semi-trucks for construction of the Kasey Meadow Park OSLAD project had to be sent elsewhere. Before the governor signed the bill this summer, the equipment had to be stored on a farm in Central Illinois but was still in the elements and often facing bad weather.
But in the last week, the splash pad has been dug up to install new concrete for a complete upgrade. Dirt has already been dug up to install a walkway surrounding the baseball fields and softball fields. An area that will be set aside to allow the disabled or people who lack mobility an opportunity sit safely to watch ballgames.
An outdoor fitness station will also be constructed in a location near 91st Street and 82nd Avenue.
“We didn’t want to put in the outdoor fitness station along with the walking path because people have told us they didn’t want to stop while they are walking,” said Fullerton. “They wanted an area where they could have for just working out. So that’s why we set it up this way.”
But the fact that ground is being dug up for the walkway and outdoor fitness station pleases Fulllerton. An upgrade for the new splash pad was necessary because of the budget stalemate, said Fullerton.
In the letter she had addressed to the governor in October 2015, Fullerton told him that she worried every day what was going to happen to the equipment for Kasey Meadow Park if a state budget is not passed.
“There is $400,000 of equipment just sitting on this farm because that is the only type of storage that we could afford,” wrote Fullerton.
Fullerton received the good news after the bill was signed in a letter from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, stating that the restrictions on funding have been lifted. She said that the Hickory Hills Park District will be receiving $390,000 from the IDR for the overall $908,000 project.
“Without the funding it would have been really challenging,” said Fullerton. “We would have had to take out the money from our recreation department fund.”
Fullerton added that without the state grant, aging vehicles could not be replaced, along with upgrades to the playground equipment. She reminded the governor that the Hickory Hills Park District is a small park district with little funding for capital projects.
“This was the first grant the Hickory Hills Park District was awarded other than a very small joint project with the City of Hickory Hills 14 years ago,” wrote Fullerton. “We spent three years writing the grant, hosting many focus groups with the community and working with several groups of children to select the ideal playground.”
But Fullerton said the projects that have been discussed for several years will become a reality.
“We are moving right along,” she said. “It’s very exciting. We are hoping to be done by mid-November, if the weather holds up. If not, it will be completed in the spring.”