After focusing on improving its parks north of Ogden Avenue in recent years, the village of Brookfield once set out to make major improvements to Ehlert Park at the south end of the village.
Recreation Director Stevie Ferrari received the green light from elected officials on Sept. 12 to submit an application to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources for an Open Space Land Acquisition and Development (OSLAD) grant of up to $600,000 to improve the southwest quadrant of Ehlert to ask Park.
This portion of the park, which includes a playground and picnic pavilion and is heavily used by AYSO Soccer and Bulldogs Youth Football, is the last portion of the park that has not been rehabilitated in the last 15 years. The tennis courts north of the west car park will be renovated this fall.
Improvements include a new inclusive playground area with a cast-in-place surface, a new picnic pavilion, and upgrades to the ball field and soccer field. Other proposed amenities, detailed in a memo from Ferrari to the village council, include ping-pong and chessboard tables, accessible path connections, landscaping improvements, and a renovation of the Kesman Memorial Garden.
The estimated cost of all improvements is approximately $1.26 million, meaning the village’s share of the cost would be approximately $666,000, funded over two fiscal years.
At the heart of the improvement is the inclusive playground area, which would provide an accessible space for children with mobility issues, but would also include areas such as nature and sensory areas that are accessible to people with other types of disabilities.
“That’s the driving force behind it,” Ferrari told the Landmark in a phone interview. “It’s also the most expensive bit, but we will have an all-inclusive park. We have a number of participants in our programs with a variety of disabilities from across the spectrum, and we have no parks outside of the just-improved Candy Cane Park that offer greater accessibility.”
Trustee Jennifer Hendricks said that while she was pleased the village would improve an area of Ehlert Park that is heavily used by the community, she was particularly appreciative of the inclusive playground concept.
“Those inclusive playgrounds, especially with the sensory piece — especially the nature play piece — if it’s a truly inclusive playground, these can be goals,” Hendricks said. “Families come to these places from all over the area because there aren’t many in our area.”
About 30 people attended an open house at Brookfield Village Hall on Sept. 15 to provide the public with feedback on the proposed improvements, Ferrari said, with the inclusive playground generating a lot of interest.
The improvement to Kesman Garden will be the first major overhaul of the area, located northwest of the playground, since it was created in 1999 in memory of longtime South Brookfield residents Tony and Martha Kesman.
At the time, the family donated $10,000 to the village to start and maintain the garden, but its maintenance and appearance have varied over the years, in part because there is no nearby water supply.
Ferrari said the plan is to redesign the garden with native plant species that thrive in the conditions there. The bricks would be preserved, Ferrari said.
The deadline for submitting OSLAD grant applications is September 30, and the state is expected to announce grant awards in the first quarter of 2023. If successful, the village aims to start work in the second half of 2023 and complete the project in 2024.