Sunday, October 22, 2017 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews
Featured image: Aamina James, 5, leads the ribbon-cutting for the Maywood Park District’s newly renovated grounds at its Central Park Area District, on 9th Ave. and Madison St. in Maywood.
Burden Langworthy, a security guard with the Maywood Park District, could hardly conceal his excitement as he watched young people and old people taking shots on a newly paved outdoor basketball court on the district’s Central Area grounds, on 9th Ave. and Madison St., after an Oct. 21 ribbon-cutting ceremony.
Langworthy remembers when the court used to be brimming with talent, future stars who at the time were still kids anxious to get their fill of hoops before it was time to go inside — from Doc Rivers to Michael Finley and Sherrell Ford and Donnie Boyce.
“I’m excited for the kids,” Langworthy said. “I’ve been working here on and off since 1988. I’ve been through the good and the bad. Now it’s back to the good.”
The court is just one aspect of a $500,000 exterior redesign of the district’s central area grounds that also includes the installation of Ping-Pong and game tables, the resurfacing of the parking lot, the renovation of the outdoor garden, the installation of a flower bed island in the lot, brand new fencing, the installation of a picnic shelter and a t-ball and soccer field designed for smaller children, among other improvements.
Lacey Lawrence, a landscape designer for Hitchcock Design Group, the landscape architecture contracted by the district for the project, said that
“We still have a few minor things to take care of like the drinking fountain, but those are just small things,” Lawrence said, adding that the landscaping featured hardy, ornamental plants that can withstand drought and don’t require lots of maintenance.
The newly renovated grounds of Maywood Park District’s new central area district feature built-in chess/checkers, Ping-Pongs and platforms for playing Cornhole. | Photos courtesy Rep. Welch/Facebook
Work on the project began in June and is nearly finished. The project is fully funded, with around half of the money coming a state grant that required matching funds.
The district secured a loan from Hinsdale Bank in order to match the grant amount, according to Toni Dorris, the district’s grant administrator and former executive director. As a condition of securing the loan, the district embarked on a period of austerity, which included enacting significant budget cuts.
“In order for us to get here today, the board had to make some really hard changes and one of those was to completely live for two years on an austerity plan,” Dorris said during the Oct. 21 ribbon-cutting ceremony.
“That meant we had to cut staff and wasteful spending. I really want to thank staff, because when you look at what other parks pay their employees, we’re way below that,” she said. “This is just an example of what people who have a heart for the community can do.”
Dorris also thanked Hinsdale Bank, who sent a representative, Rick Morales, to the ribbon-cutting.
The newly renovated grounds of Maywood Park District’s new central area district also feature a picnic shelter. | Courtesy Rep. Welch/Facebook
“When we met with Hinsdale and gave them the idea, we were already 18 months into our austerity plan,” Dorris said. “We didn’t have a strong financial history, but they gave us a chance. This is only the beginning.”
Park District Commissioners Terrance Jones and Dawn Williams-Rone said that the project is a result of community collaboration.
“This has been a community effort,” Williams-Rone said. “It’s been a long overhaul and a long journey, but we’ve finally gotten this point. Our job is to provide resources to our community and I think this is a step in the right direction.”
Jones said that being alert to public input meant that the commission had to revise its plans from time to time. He said that the process of conducting a comprehensive plan for the district started in 2013, when he and Williams-Rone were first elected to the commission.
“We really took a lot of time with the redesign,” he said. “At one point, this was thought to be a skating park. Other ideas were in the works. But we listened to the community and we really worked hard to do what the people in Maywood wanted. The goal is to have kids in this park 24/7, if possible. On Sunday mornings, I want to see kids in this park.”
Jones added that the project came in at around $20,000 under budget, which allowed officials to make more substantial upgrades. He said that a minority-, woman-owned construction firm, Hacienda Landscaping, was hired for construction work.
State Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch (7th) said that he often came to the parks at 9th Ave. and Madison St. as a child.
“This is where I grew up,” Welch said during Saturday’s event. “You can ask [Proviso Township High Schools District 209 Board President] Theresa Kelly. She’ll tell you. Me and her boys played in this park all the time. To see what happened to our parks and to see today is just great.”
State Rep. Chris Welch shooting hoops after Saturday’s ribbon-cutting as District 209 Board President Theresa Kelly looks for the rebound.
“We want to do good things at the park,” said Park District Commissioner Bill Hampton. “It’s been a long haul and a long journey, but we’ve finally gotten to this point. Our job is to provide resources to our community and I think this is a step in the right direction.”
Hampton brought as his guest Rory Kennedy, the daughter of Robert Kennedy and sister of businessman Chris Kennedy, who is campaigning for governor in the Democratic Primary.
“I am so honored to be here and be part of this community,” Kennedy said. “I think what you’re doing here really represents the future. I see the entire community working together and collaborating — banks working with community leaders and state officials — all in the interest of the children.”
The exterior redesign is just the first phase of a larger renovation of the central area district. With the exterior redesign nearly complete, the district is now focusing its efforts on maintaining their new outdoor digs.
“It is important that you tell your neighbors that this is our park,” said Dorris, who pointed out that the district had already been victimized by a string of thefts that took place earlier this month. The suspects allegedly stole a large tree and other pieces of landscaping that had been recently planted.
The commission has an even stronger focus on completing the renovation of the 809 Madison building.
In 2014, the district received a $1.62 million state grant through a bill sponsored in the Senate by state Sen. Kimberly Lightford (4th) and in the House by Welch that provides financially distressed local governments across the state with Open Space Lands Acquisition and Development (OSLAD) grants for up to 90 percent of the total cost of projects. Before, the grants would only cover up to 50 percent.
That money was frozen shortly after by Gov. Bruce Rauner took office in 2015, but it was eventually re-released a year later.
Earlier this year, Lonette Hall, the park district’s new executive director, said that renovating the building would cost around $1.8 million, of which the district will be directly responsible for around $360,000 to $400,000.
Dawn Williams Rone, the president of the park commission, shoots in the shadow of the 809 Madison Building as Quinton Beasley, far right, looks on.
In September, the Maywood Board of Trustees approved to allocate $285,000 in Madison St. TIF funds to help cover the costs of renovating the building. At the time, Maywood Village Manager Willie Norfleet, Jr. said that the village will pay the invoices related to construction directly, instead of forwarding the money to the park district.
The oversight measure for this most recent grant is different than the $1 million grant awarded to the park district in March 2006 by the Illinois Department of Commerce & Economic Opportunity (DCEO), said Lightford in an interview in 2014. Lightford was also instrumental in shepherding that funding through the General Assembly.
Around $750,000 of that grant was spent without the building ever opening, according to state records. At the time, the Park District’s then-executive director, Al McKinnor, was responsible for overseeing the project.
Documents from a state audit conducted on the rehabilitation project reveal that McKinnor contracted construction work on the building out to relatives and that the state required him to pay back at least a portion of the money that was spent. However, the audit didn’t find any substantial wrongdoing.
Lightford said in 2014 that the $1.62 million grant is “coming from a different pot of funding. There are criteria and an audit system locked into this grant system, whereas the previous grant was administered by DCEO — it was a construction grant,” she said. “That was dealt with a little differently. Back then, the shortfalls along the way weren’t noticed until the very end.”
Welch said on Saturday that he and Lightford “are going to make sure” that the district secures the remaining $1.62 million grant so that the 809 Building is completed.
The center court logo of the Maywood Park District’s newly renovated basketball court was designed by a Maywood native. | Courtesy Toni Dorris/Facebook
“This park board has been relentless,” Welch said. “If they’re not calling and emailing, they’re down in Springfield knocking on doors, making sure the district moves in the right direction.”
In the meantime, Langworthy has new memories to look forward to from basketball talent anchored by Quinton “Danka” Beasley, a Proviso East basketball standout who once played overseas and is the founder of Danka’s Basketball League.
The league started a new season on Monday, which was marked by a shoe drive for Nigerian children. With the help of the park district, Beasley has also started a traveling basketball team.
“We’re looking forward to playing on that court,” Beasley said after the Oct. 21 ribbon-cutting.
Longtime park district tenant Debra Vines, the founder of the Answer, Inc., an autism awareness nonprofit, said that she’s been holding programs at the district’s central area headquarters for seven years and doesn’t plan to move anytime soon.
“I am super excited about the things that are getting ready to happen for families impacted by children with special needs,” Vines said on Saturday. “We have not stopped our programming here. We will stay here and expand our programs.”
Carroll McFarland, a Maywood resident who lives near the park district, said that he came Saturday to see the revived grounds for himself.
“This park had been down to nothing,” he said. “I’m glad to see Maywood on the move now.”
Maywood Mayor Edwenna Perkins echoed his optimism.
“What you see today is going to be the future,” Perkins said. “We have to look to the future.” VFP
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