Elmhurst dedicates first new park in 33 years
In a highly developed and landlocked community such as Elmhurst, the chance to dedicate a new park comes along maybe every 33 years.
That's how long it had been since the park district unveiled its last new site when officials gathered Monday for a virtual dedication ceremony on Facebook to introduce Centennial Park, a nearly 3-acre property at 155 E. St. Charles Road that also houses a 12,800-square-foot building formerly known as the Redeemer Center.
Officials originally planned to dedicate the park on June 5 to mark the district's 100th anniversary, but stay-at-home orders and COVID-19 concerns delayed the event.
Centennial is the district's first new park since 1987 when it opened Crescent Park, a half-acre site at 465 S. Fair. To put that in perspective, Ronald Reagan was still president.
The district purchased the Centennial property last year for $5.5 million, with plans to convert the former Redeemer building into a facility to provide programming for adults of all ages. The building, which includes a gymnasium, multiuse rooms and a kitchen, eventually will replace the aging Abbey Senior Center.
The cost of renovating and updating the Redeemer building is estimated at $3.3 million, Executive Director Jim Rogers said Wednesday.
The district is seeking a $2.475 million grant through the state's Park and Recreational Facilities Construction Program, or PARC, to help fund the project. If that grant comes through this fall, the district would pay the remaining $825,000 for the improvements.
Rogers said Centennial will address several needs, including preserving open space, serving a neighborhood that previously didn't have a park and providing a more suitable location for an adult center.
Another benefit is that the property, previously owned by Redeemer Lutheran Church, already was tax-exempt and therefore is not being taken off the tax rolls.
Rogers said Centennial is in a neighborhood identified as a "park desert," where residents previously were not within easy walking distance of open space. He said officials will meet with neighbors next year to see what amenities they would like at the site.
Monday's virtual dedication wasn't exactly the kind of ceremony officials had hoped for, but park board President Vince Spaeth reminded viewers the district began to take shape during the 1918 flu pandemic "and so we've learned a thing or two over the years about perseverance."