The Illinois Parks and Recreation Association awarded the Community Park District of La Grange Park one of its top honors Jan. 28.
The Park District’s new Memorial Park Multi-Sports Courts were voted the Association’s 2021 Outstanding Park and Facility Overall Winner Award.
“We are really super-proud of this project,” Park District Executive Director Jessica Cannaday said in a telephone interview.
Transforming the Memorial Park space into a multi-court facility was a project that had its beginnings in 2019, shortly after Cannaday took the helm at the District.
Included in the new fitness center will be a fitness wall, three new pickle ball courts, and two repaved existing tennis courts. Other new additions are tether ball courts, a hopscotch area — or fitness walk — and racing lanes for children.
“We had been getting many requests for pickle ball,” Cannaday said. “It’s the fastest growing sport in the United States.”
The pickle ball courts will be popular with seniors, and the fitness wall is designed to give a 7-minute, full body workout to those fourteen and up.
Younger Residents will be served by the hopscotch/fitness walk, a tetherball court, a small group of race lanes, and a “gaga” pit.
Gaga Ball is designed for children and includes putting them in a hexagon — or gaga pit — and having them bounce the ball around by hitting it, but never picking it up and throwing it. Players are eliminated if the ball hits them below the knees or they let it go out of the pit.
Gaga Ball, the fitness walk and the race Lanes are part of the Park District’s focus to be inclusive and sensitive to the needs of special needs children.
“These activities are designed to let kids use their imagination,” Cannaday said.
IPRA has two categories under consideration for the award — those with operating budgets over $5 million (Division ll), and those under $5 million (Division 1).
Cannaday noted that what particularly impressed the judges was the fact that 11% of the total funding for the project came directly from community residents and businesses. The total cost of the project was approximately $470,000, and the nature of the IPRA’s voting indicated that it was money well-spent.
“We got a Prefect 100 points,” Cannaday said of the voting, “and that was the highest point total from any district in the state. Also we came in slightly under budget.” The perfect score earned La Grange Park the Overall Winner award.
Other winning park districts were Northfield (Division l) and Naperville (Division ll) for Outstanding Park, and Byron Forest Preserve District (Division l) and Geneva (Division ll) for Outstanding Facility.
The project was originally initiated by the National Fitness Campaign, a national group dedicated to bringing outdoor fitness to communities around the nation.
“They reached out to us and said that La Grange Park would be ideal for a fitness court, because of its location and pedestrian infrastructure,” Cannaday said.
The Park District applied for and was awarded a $30,000 grant from NFC towards the physical equipment and materials for the court.
The rest of the from a variety of sources, including the Park District’s Capital Fund, $25,000 from the Village of La Grange Park and several local businesses and individuals donating more than $1,000 and being honored on the donor’s wall near the fitness wall.
Among those donating more than $1,000 were Ancel Glink, the Park District’s legal counsel, American Family Insurance, and the La Grange Brookfield Lions Club.
But it was the $25,000 grant from Strive 4 Fitness, (now Strive La Grange Park) a local fitness boutique that also conducts classes on the court, that allowed the project to move forward.
While most of the funding was set, it was Strive La Grange Park that provided the money to pay for the installation of the equipment.
“Their contribution is what allowed us to jump-start the project,” Cannaday said. “But the community really came together to finance this.”
Cannaday noted that, while the District didn’t have an award in mind when it started the project, it certainly wouldn’t hurt in applying for future grants, saying, “it’s something we definitely won’t hide. This project exemplifies to our residents that the district is responsible with its resources. We value community input and we specifically reached out to it for this project.”