Thanks to a grant from the State of Illinois, La Grange Park’s Community Park District will see one of its larger parks get a much-needed upgrade.
The Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) awarded the Park District a $600,000 Open Space Land Acquisition and Development (OSLAD) grant to completely rebuild William G. Yena Park, 1423 Raymond Ave.
“We needed this financing because we had issued some non-referendum bonds in 2021,” said Jessica Cannaday, park district executive director. “We exported approximately 1.2 million dollars. “Six hundred thousand dollars were allocated to Beach Oak Park, and the remaining $600 thousand was allocated to Yena.”
OSLAD grants are matching grants that require local governments to find an equal amount and must be applied annually.
“We applied to OSLAD last year, but we did not get it,” Cannaday said. “When we found out the funding would be available again we decided to throw our hat in the ring once again because this is the last opportunity to match the funding. We are obliged by law to ensure the other portion is spent by December.”
Cannaday said the $1.2 million project will involve “complete demolition and rebuilding” of Yena.
OSLAD grants have been awarded since 1986, and this year’s awards provide grants for approximately $55 million to 111 different local park projects across the state, according to a Jan. 30 press release from Gov. J.B. Pritzker. Since its inception, OSLAD grants have provided almost $585 million for local park projects. The purpose of the grants is to provide safe outdoor recreation, and as IDNR Director Natalie Phelps Finnie noted in the press release, “83% of Illinoisans think access to outdoor recreation opportunities is important to them and their families. “Research repeatedly shows that getting outside leads to improved overall health.”
A 2021 comprehensive park inventory and evaluation found Yena Park to be the lowest-rated park district facility in the village, with Beach Oak Park the only lower-rated park. Beach Oak Park is currently being renovated and will have a grand reopening in the spring of this year. The renovation of Yena Park will be completed in spring 2025, when the park will reopen.
The Park District reached out to the community for input on the Yena plan and added designated pickleball and nature-based play areas when the plan was resubmitted. Community groups included La Grange Park Little League, School Districts 95 and 102, Chamber of Commerce, Arbor Lawyers and others.
The final plan includes preserving existing trees, additional water fountains, complete renovation of the athletic fields, complete renovation of the tennis court and a walking path surrounding the entire park perimeter. Improvements will also be made to make Yena more ADA accessible.
Cannaday emphasized that although the district was able to provide the matching funds and shovel-ready project needed for this project, the need for other revenue sources for the park district’s capital projects still exists.
“La Grange Park has one of the lowest park district tax rates in suburban Cook County, so we are really dependent on grant money to support our capital funds,” he said. “Less than 50% of our operations come from taxes, while the rest comes from our program fees.”
Cannaday is particularly excited about the upcoming improvements to ADA compliance with Yena, especially for playing fields.
“It will be accessible for the first time in the park’s history,” he said. “Currently, there is no accessible path to baseball fields and soccer fields, so if you are a grandparent who uses a walker or uses a wheelchair, you can’t watch your kids play baseball, softball or soccer.”
Hank Beckman is a freelance reporter for the Pioneer Press.