WEST ROGERS PARK — The six animal pens inside the former Indian Boundary Park zoo building are all but empty.
The concrete walls and ceilings and steel sliding doors inside the building were opened to the cool afternoon air Tuesday, so neighbors could see for themselves its dilapidated condition — and to learn about the Chicago Park District's plan to turn the structure and surrounding animal enclosures into a "nature play area."
"The plan for the inside is to pretty much gut the interior to make a useable space," said Park District architect Stephen Grant of the two-story brick building.
Grant said the new center would resemble "a secret garden," with passages connecting newly landscaped animal enclosures. A nearby water play feature in the park, at 2500 W. Lunt Ave., would also be rehabilitated.
He said the Park District's first internal design meeting for the project would be held Wednesday, and the first public meeting to present plans was scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Oct. 15 at Warren Park.
Construction is expected to wrap up by early next summer.
After nearly a century, the llamas, chickens and ducks are gone from Indian Boundary — they were moved to Lincoln Park Zoo — but neighbors surrounding the park won't give up pushing for a park that has become the center of their community.
"As long as I'm here, I'm going to keep fighting for my park," said Michael Oster, who lives nearby.
Before, the Park District had planned to level the animal enclosures, but after a monthslong battle, neighbors were able to save them from the wrecking ball.
There's still hope that animals could one day return to the former zoo.
"The Park District doesn't think we're that far apart," said Jennifer Albom, president of the Indian Boundary Park advisory council. "[Grant] could see animals in the enclosures [during summer months]. I think that fits into the plan."
Grant said he liked the idea of bringing animals in temporarily, but he cautioned that the community would have to either persuade the Park District to pay for the effort or find outside funding.