MCKINLEY PARK — A group of neighbors is pushing to replace a playground at McKinley Park they say has become dirty, dangerous and overcrowded.
“We used to think, 'Oh, we're so close to the park.' But now we can't even bring our kids to the playground," said Heather Breems, 30, head of the volunteer McKinley Park Advisory Council.
The group said the mulch surface attracts litter and the jungle gym is overrun with kids of all ages, which makes for a play space teeming with big kids and toddlers colliding together. Breems said the overcrowding has caused her 2-year-old son to tumble from the playground's suspension bridge.
The equipment, originally installed near the 69-acre park’s western edge in 1998, is structurally solid and poses no danger, park officials said. Still, Breems and neighbors say upgrades and an expansion are overdue.
Breems and the group now envision a larger playlot divided into separate spaces for teens and toddlers, complete with soft flooring and a water feature.
But first, the volunteer council needs to raise roughly one-third of the estimated cost in order for the Chicago Park District to even begin considering the proposal. Then, they'll have to persuade state or local leaders to put up the second-third of the cash.
Breems said the group has the backing of state Sen. Antonio Munoz and state Rep. Edward Acevedo and have met with Ald. George Cardenas (12th) and Ald. James Balcer (11th), though it's unclear if the aldermen would commit tax increment financing funds or money from their menus of special projects.
If they can secure that money, the park district would then pay for the rest of the project, Breems said.
For the neighborhood council, which only formed in May, raising their share — about $217,000 — will be difficult. They're being guided in their effort by the Friends of the Parks, a non-profit group that advocates for Chicago's parks.
“The fundraising part is really hard. I’m not going to assume that there are millionaires in the neighborhood who will donate $217,000,” said Maria Dmyterko Stone, community relations director for Friends of the Park.
Stone said other volunteer park groups have aided their search for funding by applying for grants, asking for discounts from playground equipment manufacturers, soliciting sponsorships for individual pieces of equipment and partnering with larger area employers to match donations.
Breems is cautiously optimistic as she leads the charge in the neighborhood to raise awareness for the project — and a big bundle of cash.
"Businesses around here are either so big, they're not going to help a local playground or they're so small that they'll help, but it won't be enough," Breems said.
The group will be updating the progress of their fundraising campaign on the McKinley Park Advisory Council website.