DUNNING — For nearly a decade, the playground at Merrimac Park offered kids not much more than a rickety slide and a few swings.
But that all changed Friday when the playground reopened after nearly eight months of construction, with new swings, slides, climbing ropes and a splash pad — perfect on a day when the mercury reached 93 degrees.
"I love it," said Cheri Cash Pates, one of several parents who besieged Ald. Tim Cullerton (38th) and park district officials with complaints about the park and helped design the new, state-of-the-art equipment.
Before the renovation began, the park had become "dangerous," Pates said.
"The slides shook and there weren't enough wood chips on the ground," said Pates, whose boys are 9 and 11. "There were never enough swings. It was just old."
Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who toured the playground with Cullerton and other officials, said the renovated playground was a symbol of the city's commitment to helping every child live up to their potential.
"This is a far cry from the wood chips and swing set days," Emanuel said, recalling that he attended the park's annual Halloween party when he represented the area in Congress. "It shows we are willing to do the hard things so the kids benefit."
The new playground is a "vast improvement," Cullerton said, adding that he will work to make sure the park remains safe for parents and children.
The playground includes several shaded tables that will give parents and caregivers a good view of their little ones scampering around the playground and a chance to chat with each other.
"Before, there was only a ledge for parents to sit on, which forced them to stare off into space," Pates said. "This will give parents a way to chat face to face."
The new playground features rolling hills in between the playstructures covered with Fibar, a soft, engineered product that resembles wood chips.
The hills got rave reviews from 2-year-old Soren Melger, who came to the grand opening with his mother, Jessica, and 5-month-old baby sister Abigail.
"My son loves to climb, but with this surface, it means I don't have to worry too much," Jessica Melger said.
Funded by $650,000 from the West Irving Park tax increment financing district, the park also got new landscaping, paving and lighting, said Chicago Park District Chief Executive Officer Michael Kelly.
Cullerton said he hopes the playground renovation adds to the momentum of redevelopment in Dunning and the nearby Irving Austin Business District, which has recently seen a number of new businesses open.