Park Board Meetings on Stormwater Projects

At this point, the fate of the Optimized Option 3: Neighborhood Storage project is in the hands of the Wilmette Park Board of Commissioners.

Their signature is required on an intergovernmental agreement, authorizing installation of stormwater detention tanks in three village parks: Community Playfields, Hibbard, and Thornwood.

Park Commissioners Swing Into Action

The Park Board has been holding a series of meetings on the projects, with one meeting for each park at Village Hall, as well as at the park site where each detention tank will be installed. So far, I’ve attended the first three meetings.

Commissioners have repeatedly stated that their goal is to determine how best to restore the parks, for example, by adding new amenities or improving the landscaping.

Community Playfields Project

The first two meetings focused on Community Playfields issues and questions.

What we learned about the Community Playfields project:

  • The new storm sewer system will be safe.
    There will not be a big dangerous intake for stormwater. Intakes will have locked grates, like the manhole covers for the current storm sewers.
  • No pump station will clutter the field.
    The system relies on gravity to fill and drain.
  • The project will use innovative “lego style” construction.
    Pre-cast concrete sections will be lowered into place to fill a relatively shallow but broad dig area, just like the award-winning Wescott Park project in Northbrook.
  • Some cottonwood trees will be removed.
    The approximately 30 cottonwood trees on the south side edge of the playfields would be cut down to make room for the dig.

What residents suggested for Community Playfields:

  • Don’t install bright lights.
    A historic battle on this issue already settled this issue: No lights!
  • Improve the drainage.
    Residents want better drainage at the tank location (one resident even recalled kayaking there), and better drainage for other parts of the park, where wet fields result in lost play time.
  • Add a cross-country ski track.
  • Keep the landscaping as natural as possible.
    Do not use artificial turf. Install only natural turf, native grasses, and whatever size trees possible at the perimeters to restore a natural sustainable environment.
  • One resident was concerned about removing the cottonwood trees.

Hibbard Park Project

The third Park Board meeting focused on Hibbard Park.

What we learned about the Hibbard Park project:

  • Commissioners want capacity for growth.
    Park Commissioners want to keep tank installation away from park space that could be needed to expand the Rec Center (for example, to add basketball courts, an indoor swimming pool, or bigger auditorium). To accommodate a hypothetical Rec Center, the stormwater tank would need to be installed at the north end and east edge.

What residents suggested for Hibbard Park:

  • Add a small sledding hill.
  • Save trees by placing the tank under parking and/or baseball field.
  • Provide free bus service to other parks during construction.
    Since construction will take up a big chunk of the park, a parent suggested that the Park District schedule free bus service to other parks, like Centennial, so the neighborhood kids still have some place to play during the construction season.

Some Additional Context

Residents mostly provided positive input, along the lines suggested by the Park Board, regarding park appearance and function at each tank installation site. But two elements of debate were deeply troubling.

First, the Park Board had hired a consultant to figure out how to retain capacity for expanding the Rec Center at Hibbard Park, should they decide to do so in the future. The Commissioners did not seem to understand how unfortunate (or even insulting) this priority might feel to westsiders, who have spent years struggling just to obtain basic sewer services.

Second, it appears that the resident who objected to cutting down the cottonwoods in Community Playfields may be campaigning against the project. Privately, westside residents have told me how angry, distressed, and even depressed they are about this. That’s completely understandable. After six years of struggle, some residents are expecting one of two outcomes: either they will be able to remain in a cherished home and community, or they will be forced to leave because of a lack of basic sewer services and frequent flood damage.

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