Revised plans for revamp of Wheaton's historic Memorial Park bring it closer to reality

 
 
Posted3/21/2019 5:29 AM
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  • An extension of the downtown Memorial Park is the district's oldest park, bought from the Gary family in 1921.

    An extension of the downtown Memorial Park is the district's oldest park, bought from the Gary family in 1921. Daily Herald file photo

  • The redevelopment of Wheaton's Memorial Park calls for a new band shell to replace a 1950s-era structure.

    The redevelopment of Wheaton's Memorial Park calls for a new band shell to replace a 1950s-era structure. Courtesy of Wheaton Municipal Band

  • Under a Wheaton Park District plan, Memorial Park's original band shell would be replaced with a new structure.

    Under a Wheaton Park District plan, Memorial Park's original band shell would be replaced with a new structure. Courtesy of Wheaton Park District

It's a scene made for a Norman Rockwell painting: Against the summer twilight, a conductor waves his baton, and Wheaton's municipal band fills the city's oldest park with the sounds of patriotic marches.

The backdrop of Memorial Park is just as timeless, surrounded by a historic neighborhood with Queen Anne-style homes, but just close enough to downtown for fans to swing by the ice cream parlors before the maestro strikes up the band.

Still, the tradition needs some tuning up: The 1950s-era band shell dates to Rockwell's heyday, and the park hasn't had a significant update since a path reconfiguration about two decades ago.

But a major renovation is moving closer to reality with the unveiling this week of revised designs to help the park district meet an initial $5.1 million budget.

The latest iteration slightly reconfigures a new band shell that will replace the original structure. The performance stage now measures 2,413 square feet, with a canopy overhang above a 3,063-square-foot area.

With a simplified design and changes to building materials, the park district has trimmed roughly $2 million in estimated costs, leaving the current price tag at about $5.7 million, Director of Parks and Planning Rob Sperl said Wednesday.

"We are still slightly over the $5.1 million initially expected, but we are offsetting this with $465,000 in grants received and allocating some portions of the project to other funding sources," Sperl said in a message Monday to Memorial Park neighbors. "In addition, we will bid the canopy and terrace as alternates to ensure we can stay within our means.

"Most importantly, we have retained everything in the original program that was developed two years ago," he said.

The project could go out to bid in June. Sperl said the district still wants to expand the raised terrace on the south side of the Mary Lubko Center, envisioned as a VIP area during special events and rentals, but may decide to add that element at a later date, depending on bid prices.

Officials went back to the drawing board after a third-party construction management company estimated the project costs would "substantially" exceed the district's $5.1 million construction budget.

The district will fund the project with capital reserves and a recently awarded $400,000 state grant from the Open Space Lands Acquisition and Development program. The district also was awarded a $65,000 DuPage County grant to make water quality improvements at Memorial Park, Sperl said.

The other big change pertains to timing: The district now intends to break ground after Brew Fest Aug. 3. That means park district signature events -- and the Wheaton Municipal Band's 2019 season -- will remain at Memorial Park for the summer.

Completing the project in time for the 2020 Taste of Wheaton is still the goal, Sperl said.

The district still plans to remove the park's tennis court due to its "very limited use," Sperl said, allowing the new band shell to move slightly to the west at the corner of Wheaton and Karlskoga avenues. The shift also will provide more lawn space for park users and concert goers who want to bring Ravinia-style picnics.

In order to move the band shell, the park district will make a request for a special-use permit from the city council at an April 8 meeting. Before that, district officials will discuss the revised designs and parameters for programming at Memorial Park during a meeting at the DuPage County Historical Museum April 2.

The new band shell still would be named in honor of the late Art Sweet, who took the baton of the Wheaton Municipal Band in 1945 when the ensemble, established during the Great Depression, was performing out of the old city hall. Sweet helped raise the money to build the original band shell.

The band's modern-day manager did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

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