Oak Brook park plan would move ball field, lights near Forest Gate

An Oak Brook Park District plan for substantial changes and additions, including moving lights and an athletic field at Central Park near the Forest Gate subdivision, will be decided by the Village Board with contradictory recommendations.

The village’s Plan Commission voted unanimously in favor of the plan, but the Zoning Board of Appeals voted against the proposal.

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Laure Kosey, the park district’s executive director, said Field 1 would be moved south about 42 feet and light standards would be installed outside of the field.

“It’s safer that way,” she said, noting the existing light standards are in the field of play. “We want to change to LED lighting, but our intention is to comply with the light ordinance the village has. We will meet the requirements or not be able to turn the lights on. It’s as simple as that.”

Controversy over lights on athletic fields at Central Park went on for several months in 2013 and 2014 with some Forest Gate residents.

ZBA member Al Savino opposed the proposed plan, saying Aug. 1 he did not deem it necessary for public convenience. But chairman Champ Davis said he supports the park district’s proposal.

“There are a lot of factors involved with this, and, overall, I think they established their right to move ahead with this,” he said Tuesday.

Kosey said a special use permit is needed because the park district updated its 10-year comprehensive master plan, which was developed in 2011.

“We made some changes based on feedback we got from residents,” she said, referring to a 2016 survey sent to all Oak Brook households.

Kosey said the addition of a clubhouse that would be used for senior programs, special needs programs and the sale of concessions, and have bathrooms, has been added.

Plans also include improving walking paths, developing a Universal Playground, adding outdoor fitness stations, increasing sustainability practices and improving the accessibility and safety of the existing ball fields, Kosey said.

Ball field plans call for the elimination of the smallest of the existing four fields, but making the existing fields safer for players and spectators and improving accessibility, she said.

A new creative play area is included in the plans, and $150,000 has been budgeted for that.

However, Kosey said the park district is hoping to raise an additional $850,000 so that the creative play area can become a fully fenced, accessible Universal Playground.

“The playground would feature equipment designed to increase social and play interaction among people of all ages and abilities,” she said.

The park district has partnered with Unlimited Play, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping communities build inclusion through play.

“It’s important to clarify that a Universal Playground is not just a playground for individuals with disabilities,” Natalie Mackay, founder of Unlimited Play, said. “This facility would be carefully designed to consider the needs of all people.”

The includes parents and grandparents with limited mobility, families with typically abled children and families that have a child with special needs.

“The park would provide a fun, interactive environment where everyone could experience the benefits of play together,” Mackay said.

The park district has at least $800,000 in its capital improvements fund to spend on the project, along with a $400,000 Open Space Land Acquisition and Development matching grant to help fund the master plan projects. It is seeking donations to offset the cost of the Universal Playground.

Kosey said park district officials must decide by the spring of 2018 is they plan to go ahead with the Universal Playground or will replace the existing playground area with a new creative play area. They have until August 2018 to use the $400,000 grant, under the conditions of it being awarded.

The Village Board is scheduled to discuss the plan Sept. 12.

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