By Emily Lapinski
After a four-month delay, the Berwyn Park District is back on track and moving forward with plans to expand and improve the park system.
Berwyn parks lost close to $400,000 in grants earlier this year due to budget cuts made by Gov. Bruce Rauner. The grant suspension put a delay on two major projects. The first was an $87,500 grant for land acquisition for a new park and the second was a $306,600 grant for renovation and redevelopment of existing parks, specifically their water drainage systems.
“The first thing that we can take away from this is that you always hear people talking about going for grants but you have to keep in mind that grants can dry up, be suspended or even cancelled out,” said Jeffery Janda, executive director of the Berwyn Park District. “As a result, the project or program you are moving forward with suddenly comes to a standstill.”
But state money came through mid-summer for the big project – drainage at Proksa Park, according to Superintendent of Recreation Conor Cahill.
“The project to redesign our pond/stream system at Proksa Park will create a better water retention system and some better aesthetics for the park,” Cahill said. “We will be able to begin to program around the new water-play features once they are installed, but it isn’t likely to create a rash of new programming.”
According to Janda, designs are currently being created and work will begin in the spring.
During the standstill, the park district made a tough call and purchased the land originally sought out, regardless of the lack of funding.
“We did move forward and purchase the property at 6514 W. 27th Place across from Liberty, “Janda said. “Unfortunately we couldn’t wait while the grant was suspended because the property owner, who was a willing property owner, said that either we had the deal done or he was going to revisit and move on.”
Berwyn Park District was not able to get the match grant for this land acquisition. The lot was bought using bond proceeds from 2015.
“Because we bought it while the grant was in suspension we became ineligible for the matching grant,” Janda said. “We had to realign some things and pay the full acquisition price instead of half of it. That has kind of kicked back our development plans at that property and we are just coming up with some other options for what we can do.”
Despite the loss of one of their grants, the Berwyn Park District is grateful.
“I have friends that work in social services and they’re still trying to get some of the money they’re owed,” Janda said. “The reality is that the state of our state’s economy, the failing budget and such, is hurting everyone. While I believe in parks one hundred percent, there are other things more important than parks. Schools, social services, our first responders, everything is important. The question is how we meet all of their needs and demands.”