JEFFERSON PARK — Residents of the 45th Ward used their new power to spend the city's cash to foot the $183,000 bill for a new play surface at Beaubien Elementary School as part of the participatory budgeting election.
Beaubien Principal Michelle Ludford said she was "over the moon" that students will no longer have to play on a blacktop-covered surface. The rubberized material that will cover the play area will be safer for students, Ludford said.
"This year, we've had a broken bone and a chipped tooth and a concussion," Ludford said. "There will still be injuries, but the new surface will reduce the amount."
Residents of the far Northwest Side ward, which includes parts of Portage Park, Jefferson Park, Old Irving Park and Gladstone Park, also decided that $546,000 should be spent to resurface streets, repair curbs and sidewalks, and replace streetlights. Voters also got to choose six projects to be covered by the rest of the money.
A plan to spend $120,000 to wash, paint and add pigeon netting to viaducts and underpasses throughout the ward was the top vote-getter.
The project's selection by voters prompted Old Irving Park Association Vice President Anna Zolkowski Sobor to send a exultant email to the group's members.
"Maybe one day we'll be able to walk to school, trains and subways without stepping into pigeon poop," Zolkowski Sobor wrote.
In a message to ward residents, Arena said he and his staff were "working on ways to make the money go even further and do even more."
Residents also voted to spend $23,000 to improve lighting in the viaduct on Milwaukee Avenue north of the Jefferson Park Transit Center. In addition, $125,000 will be spent to install a pedestrian traffic signal at the transit center, which residents have been demanding for years.
Voters also agreed to spend $2,500 to buy wood and hardware for the Our Lady of Victory and St. John's Food Pantry Community Garden at Jefferson Park, 4822 N. Long Ave.
This is the first year Arena used the participatory budget process to spend his $1.3 million discretionary budget. About $300,000 will be held back to cover cost overruns and emergency projects.
At six community meetings this fall, attendees came up with more than 100 ideas about how the $1 million should be spent. Committees whittled down the suggestions, and Arena and his staff made the final picks.