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Schools, Parks, Trees Win In 36th Ward Budget Vote

 Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th) announces the winners of the participatory budgeting election.
Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th) announces the winners of the participatory budgeting election.
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36th Ward Office

PORTAGE PARK — A field at Locke Elementary School, a new splash pad at Bell Park, a community garden at Prosser Career Academy and trees a were the big winners in the 36th Ward's participatory budgeting vote.

Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th) allowed 36th Ward voters to decide how to spend his $1 million discretionary budget for the first time.

Villegas said the effort was a "huge success."

During the vote that culminated Saturday, 792 people voted to spend 57 percent of the money on road repair, leaving $430,000 to fund the top projects selected by voters, Villegas' office announced.

The top vote getter was a $200,000 project to build a turf field to replace the dirt play area at Locke Elementary School, 2828 N. Oak Park Ave.

Voters also earmarked $150,000 for a water spray feature at Bell Park, 3020 N. Oak Park Ave., that can be turned on and off to save money and water.

A plan to spend $10,000 to plant trees at Bell Park, Rutherford-Sayre Park, 6871 W. Belden Ave., Blackhawk Park, 2318 N. Lavergne Ave. and Hermosa Park, 2240 N. Kilbourn Ave., where hundreds of trees have been killed by pests and disease in recent years, also won the support of 36th Ward residents.

The community garden at Prosser Career Academy, 2148 N. Long Ave., will get a path for wheelchair access, additional lights and new garden beds thanks to $22,000 set aside by voters.

A plan to spend $225,000 for sidewalks along the west side of the 2700 block of Newcastle Avenue and both sides of the 2300 block of North Normandy Avenue finished in fifth place, but there was not enough money left over to fund the project, said Justin Heath, director of policy for Villegas.

Instead, the sixth-place project — a $90,000 crosswalk at Belmont and Natchez avenues, which is near a school and frequently used bus stop — will be funded, thanks to Villegas' decision to take $42,000 from the discretionary budget's reserve account, Heath said.

Heath attributed the robust turnout — which was nearly 65 percent higher than in the neighboring 45th Ward, which was the only other Far Northwest Side ward to hold a participatory budget election — to volunteers who "worked like crazy" and the decision to allow residents as young as 14 to cast ballots at five different voting locations during seven days.

The ward includes Portage Park, Belmont Cragin, Dunning, Montclare and Galewood.

Introducing teens to the voting process "is one of the most important aspects" of participatory budgeting, Villegas said.

"This is one way to show new voters that Democracy does in fact work, if you participate," Villegas said.

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