New playground welcomes students in Western Springs
Jeannie Padgett of Western Springs assembles a basket for the swing set section of the new playground equipment at Forest Hills School. | Steve Johnston—for Sun-Times Media
Updated: September 24, 2012 6:05AM
WESTERN SPRINGS — Months of planning and a sunny forecast Aug. 18 eased the Laura Tarnow’s fears as volunteers swarmed the expanse of dirt in the park at Forest Hills School in southwestern Western Springs.
The former PTA president was a little uncertain everyone who promised would show up to build a playground.
“Aug. 18 left us very little wiggle room with school starting on Wednesday,” Tarnow said. “But because it was a community build, we couldn’t have it in July or August when people were on vacation.”
Heavy equipment hoisted the larger pieces of the playground into place Aug. 17 under the direction of the Western Springs Park District, which will maintain the playground, and NuToys, based in La Grange, which manufactured the pieces.
A tight budget with inadequate funds to replace aging playground equipment moved park officials to seek a partnership, after studying alternatives for more than a year.
“The PTA raised $25,000 and presented us a check for which we were deeply grateful,” said Craig Himmelmann, park district director of parks. “It’s a win situation for the students of Forest Hills School and a win for the community that visits the park.”
When school officials did not offer funding, the PTA voted to donate $10,000 and undertake a community fundraising project, Tarnow said. Parents sought donations for paving bricks, benches and stools for an outdoor classroom adjoining a learning garden on the school’s northwest side.
“The mushroom stools sold out very quickly,” said fundraising chairwoman Jeanne Padgett of the colorful stools offered for $250 each.
“Some of the families who gave have children at St. John of the Cross School, and the Kiwanis Club of Western Springs-Hinsdale was extremely generous,” Padgett said. “It was really heartwarming to see so many people contribute, those who had fond memories of their kids playing there.”
Himmelmann said the equipment purchase totaled $72,000. PTA organizers said the volunteer effort of the community build helped save the park district $25,000 in labor costs.
Forest Hills PTA members and neighborhood residents plan to dedicate their new playground and outdoor classroom with an ice cream social at 6:30 p.m. Aug. 24 at the school at 5020 Central Ave.
The Forest Hills project is the third community build in the park district, following a playground built at Ridgeland Park and a project at Field School, Himmelmann said.
Tarnow said she hopes the cooperative effort can serve as a model for replacing equipment at other schools.
“All the kids are really excited and will be going back to a brand new park,” she said. ~.