A 'standard of excellence': Lombard Park District leader to retire

Lombard Park District commissioners weren't caught off guard when Executive Director Paul Friedrichs announced Wednesday he will retire at the end of December.

He gave the park board enough notice to have a succession plan in place well in advance of his retirement. His successor will have some big shoes to fill once Friedrichs steps down after a 36-year career in parks and recreation.

"He has just established this standard of excellence for the park district that is just - it's unbelievable his dedication to not just the park district, but the community in general," board President Dave Lemar said.

Friedrichs joined the park district 25 years ago. He became executive director in June 2007.

During his tenure, the district made a splash with Paradise Bay Water Park. Lombard voters in 2008 approved the construction of a new aquatic facility that would replace the aging Moran Water Park.

"He was involved with Paradise Bay's referendum and the building of that beautiful water park in town, under budget and on time," Lemar said. "The Madison Meadow Athletic Center was built without a referendum because of his fiscal responsibility, again, under budget and on time."

Friedrichs secured grants through the Illinois Department of Natural Resources for the redevelopment of the Four Seasons, Sunset Knoll and Southland parks. He also helped expand access to COVID-19 vaccines in 2021. The district partnered with Jewel-Osco to provide over 5,000 individuals with COVID-19 shots at the Madison Meadow Athletic Center.

"It was about doing what's right. And Paul has just always done that," Lemar said. "And knowing that he has instilled that in the group that's coming up behind him is just really reassuring." Lemar told the Daily Herald the board intends to promote from within to fill the executive director job and keep the district "right down the same path."

"This whole process started a few years back and has pretty much culminated at this point," Lemar said of Friedrichs preparing for his retirement.

With the remainder of his time at the helm, Friedrichs will help develop the expansion plans for Lilacia Park while working to ensure a seamless transition. The board on Tuesday night approved a contract to buy the former Helen Plum library property adjacent to Lilacia Park, home to the former garden of Colonel William R. Plum, a Civil War veteran.

Under the terms of the contract, the park district will contribute $350,000 toward demolishing the structure as full payment for acquiring the main library site. The park district also has agreed to pay $168,000 for the purchase of three lots totaling 17,794 square feet immediately west of the shuttered library.

With a new library set to open off Main Street next month, Helen Plum trustees will be responsible for hiring a contractor to tear down the old Maple Street building. The contract also calls for the library to have the demolition work completed on or before April 1, 2024. The park district is expected to close on the property purchase within a month after the building's demolition.

As far as next steps, Lemar expects district employees will reach out to landscape architects to take a look at the available spaces. "We are coming up on doing a comprehensive master plan, so that'll probably be part of that process, getting community input, seeing what the residents would like to see and then trying to implement it to the best of our abilities."

Friedrichs also will start the redevelopment of Southland, one of his last major projects. The district secured a $600,000 state grant for the neighborhood park improvements.

In a statement, he called his retirement decision "bittersweet."

"I've had the privilege of being the district's executive director for the past 16 years. Over that time, I have been supported by 20 different elected commissioners and have always appreciated their investment of time and energy on behalf of our residents," Friedrichs said. "My career has been very rewarding, having an amazing team behind me with an active and engaged community."

Over that time, the district also received several prestigious honors, including the National Recreation and Park Association's Gold Medal Award.

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