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Park District of La Grange discusses plans with the La Grange Village Board for a proposed referendum

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The Park District of La Grange unveiled plans Monday for going to referendum in November on a $13.86 million bond issue to implement the District’s 2024 plan to improve and protect local parks.

The cost to a taxpayer with a $500,000 home will be $71 annually, slightly less than $6 monthly, officials said.

“We have undersized, aging courts, no multi-sport courts, outdated and inaccessible playgrounds, and outdated shelters,” Park District Executive Director Jenny Bechtold told Village trustees at the Village Board meeting. “We have a lack of athletic fields…we don’t have any synthetic turf, and we have aging facilities.”

Bechtold’s presentation went on to cite the lack of a bandshell, a dog park, the need for more pickleball courts, the need for more shade trees and garden plots, aging courts, and improved parking.

The facilities the plan focused on were the Community Center, and Denning, Elm, Gilbert, Gordon, Rotary, and Sedgwick parks.

Aside from playing fields and facility updates, the plan also proposes addressing code and accessibility issues.

(Bechtold’s presentation, which can be found on the Village website villageoflagrange.com under the 5-13 meeting agenda, reviewed the specifics of the planned improvements)

Bechtold said that the plans were preliminary, and that the Park District’s Board of Commissioners will make a final decision in August on the specific plan, and whether the proposed referendum will be on the November ballot.

She also stressed that the Park District’s share of the property tax bill was 4.44 percent of the total bill, based on 2022 figures, less than the La Grange Library (4.60) the Village of La Grange (11.11), and two school districts, (66.49).

Trustees had questions.

Beth Augustine wanted to know why there was nothing in the plan about updated bathrooms at Sedgwick Park.

“I know there’s been talk about repurposing the structure at Sedgwick to have real bathrooms in instead of the outhouses which are pretty difficult,” she said. “Is that still potentially part of the plan?”

Bechtold said it was removed from the plan based on community feedback, noting “We’ll take a look at what the survey says and we’ll revisit it with the task force and see if they want to add that back in … if we add something back in, we have to take something out. It’s a balancing act.”

President Mark Kuchler asked about the costs of maintaining Little League fields.

“The Little League maintains the two fields that they play on,” Bechtold said. “They do a really good job … we take on some of the larger capital items like fencing, and those type of items … it’s kind of a split job.”

Not everyone was pleased with the Park District’s plan.

Rose Naseef, Chairperson of the La Grange Environmental Quality Commission, spoke in opposition to the idea of synthetic turf in any La Grange park.

“I strongly oppose synthetic turf and the expansion of parking lots,” she said, citing Gilbert and Sedgwick parks as of particular concern. “Synthetic turf contains chemicals that are harmful to human health … every part of synthetic turf contains chemicals and it’s not environmentally friendly in any way.”

She went on to summarize a list of dangerous substances to be found in turf, citing carcinogens, reproductive toxins, respiratory toxins, and pesticides.

“Companies that sell turf claim that there’s no evidence that children are harmed, or that fields cause cancer,” Naseef said. “That’s often misunderstood as meaning the products are safe. That’s not true.”

She went on to cite research done on the subject, and other American communities that have banned synthetic turf.

Contacted later, Bechtold countered Naseef’s arguments.

“The Park District first and foremost, wants to create safe spaces for all of our residents and users,” she said. “I think it’s important to remember that there are studies that are out there, but it doesn’t make them true. And I would say that right now there are studies on both sides of the fence regarding the turf and if it’s good or bad.”

Bechtold referred interested residents to the FAQs on the Chicago Park District’s website for more information on the issue.

“They have studies that say the opposite of what Rose is saying, that they haven’t found those harmful effects,” she said, stressing that Gordon Park was the only facility that turf was planned for.

“It’s currently closed for the entire Spring and Fall season for repairs, because of the wear and tear on the field with the rain and the usage, you can’t utilize it as much,” Bechtold said. “With the turf, there’s not as much downtime … you don’t have to shut it down to repair it, you don’t have to fill holes weekly, you don’t have to mow it, you don’t have to spray it with herbicides and pesticides.”

Bechtold said that synthetic turf reduced labor and maintenance costs significantly.

She urged residents to email the Park District or call her and she would be happy to provide the link for the survey.

The next La Grange Village Board meeting will be at 7:30 p.m. June 10, at the La Grange Village Hall, 53 S. La Grange Road.

Hank Beckman is a freelance reporter for Pioneer Press.

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Hank Beckman , 2024-05-14 23:13:48

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