By RORYE O’CONNOR
Members of the Mt. Vernon community shared their vision of the future of two parks with Parks and Recreation staff on Wednesday.
George Bryant, Mt. Vernon Parks and Recreation director, hosted two public meetings at the Rolland W. Lewis Community Building at Veterans Park to learn what the public thinks should be done in the future with areas of Lincoln Park and Woodglen Park.
“I’m really excited about having you here tonight,” Bryant said. He and John Dzarnowski of FGM Architects presented possible concepts for the future parks.
Bryant said the push to begin thinking about development of the parks came from the city’s Comprehensive Plan, which states there should be conceptual plans for five local parks or green spaces.
In addition, he said it may be possible for the city to apply for an Open Space Land Acquisition and Development Grant from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. He said a grant of up to $400,000 could be possible.
Bryant said for each of the parks, two additional planning meetings will be held before the plans are forwarded to the City Council for them to adopt.
The area of Lincoln Park being planned is the property on the east side of South 34th Street between the existing baseball parking lot and the Aquatic Zoo, currently under construction. The land is owned in part by the city, and in part by the Lincoln Park Foundation.
Some of the proposed amenities for the park area, in addition to the Aquatic Zoo, are a petting zoo, a mini golf course, a tot lot and/or playground, a labyrinth and/or butterfly garden, softball fields, practice football fields, and tennis courts. The park could also be developed to contain additional concession stands, restrooms, paths, benches, picnic areas and parking.
Bryant said the plans would include three parking areas, including the existing lot.
Cheryl Settle, the chief volunteer officer for the YMCA of Jefferson County, said she believes that four and a half acres of the southern part of the park area being planned should be dedicated to a new YMCA building.
“The new building would best serve our community with a full service YMCA,” Settle said. She added that the YMCA promotes healthy living and is faith-affiliated, based on Christian principles.
“We are very close to the point where we are going to be ready to build a new YMCA,” she said. “We are hoping that through this idea, a new partnership can be made. The facility would complement the water park that is under construction, and it would be a draw for economic development around the area, because employers like to be near the YMCA.”
She added that the facility would not involve taxpayer money.
The facility YMCA of Jefferson County hopes to build would be 34,000 square feet and would feature a large gym and indoor courts.
Several of the attendees to the meeting voiced their support of the idea, at least in part because the YMCA facility would provide year-round fitness facilities.
Attendee Brishanta Lee said she thought an indoor facility would provide an advantage to the park area in the case of rain or cold weather.
One attendee asked why the city did not choose to build an indoor water park facility.
City Manager Ron Neibert said according to feasibility studies, an indoor facility would be likely to have an annual maintenance deficit of $250,000, and the city did not want to place that burden on the taxpayers.
One attendee suggested a water feature, like the manmade lake at Veterans Park, could be placed in a drainage area at the north end of the park plans, and Dzarnowski said that is a good idea.
Attendee Chris Bauer asked what would happen to Veterans Park if tennis courts are moved to Lincoln Park.
Bryant said it is possible that basketball courts would be expanded and the city may consider a large skate park facility at Veterans Park.
“I think it would fit well,” he said.
Concerning Woodglen Park, a small undeveloped area near a housing development on the north side of town, Bryant said the proposed amenities are a tot lot and/or playground, a basketball court, bike or walking paths, benches, a gazebo or shelter, accessible parking or athletic fields.
Residents expressed concerns about having a walking path close to their backyards, suggesting a tree buffer between a walking path and the houses that abut the park area.
Aaron Shook, who lives in the nearby subdivision, said he conducted an informal survey of some of the residents there. He said there are children of many ages and a home daycare in the subdivision, and the features people told him they’d like to see are a playground, small child playground equipment and a gazebo or shelter.