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Board addresses community park issues

Published: Monday, Dec. 16, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT
(Rob Winner – rwinner@shawmedia.com)
Roberts Playground is seen Friday in DeKalb. Residents have complained about finding drug paraphernalia here.

DeKALB – Roberts Playground, a neighborhood park near Hillcrest Drive, will be closed by next spring after a vote by the DeKalb Park District board.

Lisa Smalls, the park district’s interim director, said the playground once was part of the elementary school grounds. She said the school district sold the property to Northern Illinois University, which moved its school of nursing to the elementary school building.

“NIU left the playground and allowed the park district to maintain it for the neighboring children,” Smalls said.

“It’s a secluded park, and I think the attraction is that it’s not visible from any nearby street,” nearby resident Kim Launer said.

She said her family moved to the area 17 years ago. At that time, her daughter was 4 years old, and she felt safe in allowing her daughter to play there.

“Over the past 10 years, it’s gotten progressively worse,” she said.

Launer said there have been numerous incidents of vandalism, alcohol and drug paraphernalia found in the park and neighborhood children being bullied.

“These are not the neighborhood kids causing these problems,” Launer said. “For the safety of the residents and our homes, closing the park is a step in the right direction.”

“While supportive of the park district’s recreational programming, the academic mission and programming of the university is not presently congruent with the maintenance and play activities of neighborhood programs, and thus the university will seek to remove the playground equipment in cooperation with the park district,” wrote Jeff Daurer, assistant vice president facilities planning and operations for NIU, in an email.

Brad Garrison, the park district’s assistant director for planning and development, said equipment removal will begin in the spring.

A second park in the Eden’s Garden subdivision on the north side of Twombley Road was discussed, as well. Dan Kenney of DeKalb County Community Gardens requested removing the gazebo from the Garden of Eden Park to make room for a community garden.

“I had students at Brooks Elementary who were interested, and their parents seemed interested, as well,” Kenney said. “It would be up to the residents to determine what form that garden would take.”

Although he’s not opposed to the idea of a community garden, Garrison said there are sites more conducive to that type of activity. He showed the board an aerial depiction of the area and pointed out other areas that might be better suited.

“It is the only park in that area, and the playground is heavily used,” Garrison said.

The board directed park staff to send a letter to residents of the development seeking their thoughts on park improvements and a community garden.

“I think there’s a good chance we’ll have a garden there next summer,” Kenney said.

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