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Advisory Council Proposes $3 Million Renovation for Jefferson Memorial Park

By Heather Cherone | November 16, 2013 8:37am
  All of the money for the renovation would come from private sources, advisory council members said.
Advisory Council Proposes $3 million Renovation for Jefferson Memorial Park
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JEFFERSON PARK — Jefferson Memorial Park would get a larger playlot, a bandshell and perhaps an ice rink as part of a $3 million renovation that would reshape almost every inch of the park proposed by the park's advisory council.

The advisory council, which formed last year in an attempt to spruce up the seven-acre park, plans to raise at least $3 million to fund the renovation from private sources, which could be the first time a Chicago Park District facility is completely overhauled without a cent of public money.

"An advisory council can choose to do little things, or build a strategic plan and do large things that can make a real difference," said advisory council chairman Lionel Rabb, adding that he hopes the group's work creates a blueprint for other advisory councils. "We formed to do great things."

Chicago Park District spokeswoman Jessica Maxey-Faulkner could not be reached Friday for comment.

The plan calls for the creation of a dog-friendly area near the northwest corner of the park, which now has two baseball fields, one combination football/soccer field, three tennis courts, a basketball court, a playground a water spray feature and a outdoor swimming pool.

"Other parks deserve the money," Rabb said, adding that the park received a new $500,000 playlot three years ago. "We feel like we can raise the money. Private investment should be used to improve our parks."

The playlot would be replaced by a larger play area for toddlers and young children, Rabb said.

Rabb is the CEO of Omicron Technologies, a consulting firm that specializes in developing software packages used in the student information industry and in educational organizations. He is also the founder of the Rabb Family Foundation, a nonprofit organization.

The Rabb Family Foundation paid an architect about $8,000 to survey the park and draw up the proposal based on input from the advisory council, Rabb said.

The plan calls for one of the two baseball diamonds to be removed to allow a bandshell to be built and to create a larger space for festivals and other special events, Rabb said.

"We want to create the first-class park that this community deserves and attract more families," Rabb said.

The current proposal, which Rabb said he expects to be revised as the advisory council gathers input from Jefferson Park residents over the next 90 days, calls for the basketball court at the park to be removed. The court has long drawn complaints that it attracts drug dealing and crime to the park.

In addition to gathering feedback on the proposal, the council is asking park-goers to fill out a two-page survey about the future of the park, and includes a question about whether the park should keep the basketball courts.

The advisory council plans to approve the final plan by April 1, and then submit it to park district officials. The improvements would take five years to complete, Rabb said.

Overall, the renovation of the park is designed to create more green space and better utilize the park's open space, Rabb said.

The proposal calls for the addition of chess tables and a Bocce Ball court to the park.

"We have a senior population that comes to the park that has nowhere to go," Rabb said. "We want them to actually be able to utilize the park."

The proposal also calls for the 130-year-old arts and crafts building at the park to be restored and turned into the new home of the Northwest Chicago Historical Society

The building was once home to Henry Esdohr, who was the area’s postmaster and the treasurer of the first township school board in state during the 19th century. It also housed the first Jefferson Park public library.

The advisory council has had an "ongoing dialog with the park district" and expects some work on the building to take place in the spring, Rabb said.

The proposal also calls for the city to relocate a Bureau of Forestry facility that is now near Higgins and Lindner avenues to make room for a dog park and relocated tennis courts. The city officials have indicated they plan to move the city's operations away from the park eventually, Rabb said.

"That's why it is a multi-year plan," Rabb said.

Magda Stojko, who has lived across the street from Jefferson Park for 14 years, said she was thrilled that the park was getting a makeover — but said she was concerned that plans for a picnic grove with grills along Higgins Avenue would mean more noise for the area.

"I love it," Stojko said. "I want to make it happen right now."

The proposal also calls for the outdoor pool to be covered during the fall and winter to allow for year-round use, much like the one at Piotrowskio Park in Little Village. A toddler pool would be built next to the main pool, according to the proposal.

"It would be much cheaper than building a brick structure," Rabb said.

Plans for a synthetic ice rink are also in the works but have not been finalized, Rabb said.