MCKINLEY PARK — At long last, new playground equipment has been installed at McKinley Park.
"It's a huge improvement," said Heather Breems, former president of the McKinley Park Advisory Council, a group that had for years been pushing for new equipment to replace what they say was a crowded, outdated and dirty hangout for kids.
The old equipment, originally installed near the 69-acre park’s western edge in 1998, was structurally solid and posed no danger, park officials said, but that didn't stop neighbors from pushing for the upgrades.
City officials gathered at the park earlier this month for a ribbon cutting on the new play lot, which includes a treehouse-style jungle gym, new swings, a see-saw and other kid-friendly features.
"It's nice but I would've expected it to be bigger," said Marissa Santiago, 37, a McKinley Park mom who was pushing her infant son on the new swings.
The volunteer park advisory council had already been rallying to raise money and drum up support for the renovations, which would've required the Chicago Park District to foot a third of the bill. The remainder would have been split between the alderman's office and private interests such as park advisory councils.
But the city program scrapped that formula in favor of one where the Chicago Plays! initiative picks up the entire tab, by way of the park district's capital budget.
Each individual project rehab or construction costs about $125,000. Citywide, the program's total cost is estimated to be $37.5 million.
Now the city says the Southwest Side playground at McKinley Park is one of 103 playgrounds to get renovated in 2014. Other renovations include the nearby Kucinski-Murphy Park, 1635 W. 33rd Place, McKeon Park, 600 W. 36th St. and Hoyne Park, 3417 S. Hamilton Ave.
"Originally a bigger playground sounded nice, before Chicago Plays program came out, but I know that could've taken years and year and years to raise the funds for. It's not exactly what we wanted but I see the value of Chicago Plays and I'm very pleased," Breems said.
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