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updated: 10/1/2013 10:51 AM

Naperville Park District focusing on improving indoor space

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Naperville Park District's next frontier is shaping up to be indoors.

A strategic plan recently approved to guide the district for the next three years lists addressing indoor space needs as the first of five major goals.

District yoga classes now are held in preschool classrooms, basketball leagues play in carpeted elementary school gyms, and there is no indoor track or any place for seniors to be active, and Executive Director Ray McGury says the need for indoor activity space for people with disabilities is so dire it's "criminal."

"We as a park district offer them nothing in the way of indoor space other than a classroom," McGury said of the 2,500 people with disabilities living in Naperville who are registered with the Western DuPage Special Recreation Association. "There is a huge demand in this community for indoor space."

Since 1992, while Naperville's population has grown by at least 50,000 people, the park district has added only 2,000 square feet of indoor space, said Brad Wilson, director of recreation.

The 5,000-square-foot Knoch Knolls Nature Center, set to open next fall, will more than double that total. But park district staff members say more must be done to increase the amount of indoor recreation space and to offer more winter programming.

"I think where we fall short is really providing recreational experiences year-round," McGury said. "We have stretched ourselves to the point where we just cannot stretch ourselves anymore."

Partnerships with school districts allow the park district to hold karate classes, gymnastics classes and sports clinics for kids ages 4 to 9 in elementary gyms. But Wilson said little space is available during the morning and afternoon.

"We hold just about anything we can within the gymnasiums because those are the only large spaces that we have available to us," Wilson said. "They're only available to the park district during the evenings after school is out."

The park district is examining ways to meet indoor space needs before the end of 2016, when the new strategic plan expires. One such possibility is opening or building an activities center, which McGury envisions as a "basic but functional facility" that could create a community gathering place centered around recreation and give people with disabilities and senior citizens more places to exercise.

Although the latest push to build an indoor athletic facility in south Naperville failed about seven years ago, private gyms keep popping up, and facilities like the Kroehler and Fry YMCAs are full to capacity.

"It's just way past due," McGury said.

An activities center also could allow the park district to do more to address childhood obesity and provide a positive alternative option for teens who may be tempted by parties with drugs and alcohol. Universal design principles would ensure the new facility would comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act and be accessible to people who use wheelchairs or have physical or mental disabilities.

"Our mission is to provide recreational experiences for everybody, not just for some people, McGury said.

Aside from addressing indoor space needs, the strategic plan also includes goals of providing "innovative and uncommon experiences," such as a possible platform tennis facility; maintaining or improving on the 2012 rating in the next resident survey; maintaining financial health; and maintaining the viability, relevance and quality of experience at both park district golf courses.

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