Park in Ickes opening soon, for community use

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As residents in a South Side public housing development watched many buildings in the complex prepare for demolition, they also saw a new playground being built. The building of the new park left some to speculate that the playground was not for their chi

As residents in a South Side public housing development watched many buildings in the complex prepare for demolition, they also saw a new playground being built. The building of the new park left some to speculate that the playground was not for their children to enjoy.

“Once they’ve torn it all down and built it back up, the park will be for the new people who will move right in,” said Jasmine Jenkins, a mother of two and resident of the Chicago Housing Authority’s Harold Ickes Homes since 1989.

Not true, said Ald. Pat Dowell. Her 3rd Ward includes the Ickes where the newly-built 24th & Federal Park sits.

Acknowledging the lack of attention the Ickes received for years, the alderman was saddened to hear the residents assume that new things in their area aren’t for them. However, she understands their frustration, she said.

The Ickes complex, located between 22nd and 25th Streets and South State Street, opened in 1955 with 738 units. It housed more than 1,600 families in its heyday. Currently, 79 families remain in the development’s three occupied buildings, according to CHA spokesman Matthew Aguilar.

Six of the 11 buildings are under demolition, which began last month.

The decision to build a park in the midst of the unknown fate of the housing development didn’t happen overnight, it’s been in the works for a decade, said Dowell.

“It was conceived with the residents in mind. The park is for them. It’s not something that I came in and all of a sudden wanted a park there. It’s been 10 years in the making. The design, securing of nearly $3 million and building time has to be considered. There were also some environmental issues that had to be taken care of. It was a long process,” the alderman said.

Dowell said extra time was given to make sure the new grass settled and could withstand the tension it would get from the children running around and playing in the new park. It would’ve made no sense to rush the foundational issues and have it torn up within a year of opening, she said.

While to passersby the park looks complete behind its wrought iron fence, Jessica Faulkner of the Chicago Park District said it’s not ready for the children to enjoy.

“It’ll be officially finished when the punchlist from the contractor is done. That should be happening any day,” said Faulkner, spokeswoman for the park district.

Jenkins was cautiously relieved to know her sons would get a chance to play in the new park.

“When the fence comes down, I’ll know I can really tell my sons they can go to the new playground. All they want to do is play in the new park,” said Jenkins.

Dowell had her final inspection of the new playground earlier this month and is working with the park district to schedule the opening of the park, which has a walking path and baseball field.

“It’s a peaceful area. It’s an oasis. I know the children are very excited and want to play in it. My goal is for them to get some time to play there before the cold sets in,” she said.

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