Columbus Park is getting a multi-million dollar makeover thanks in part to a state park-improvement grant, which Gov. Pat Quinn announced June 23 at the West Side park.
Located at 500 S. Central Ave., Columbus Park, is one of 39 parks and three land and water-conservation projects across the state to receive funding from the Open Space Land Acquisitions and Development grant program, which uses money from the state's real estate transfer tax.
Austin's park will receive an artificial turf baseball field, an artificial turf soccer field and an artificial turf football field. In addition, two existing baseball and softball fields will be restored.
Lights will be installed at the artificial turf fields and the project also includes storm water enhancements and tree planting, according to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, which is administering the grant program.
The total project cost for Columbus Park is $3.5 million, said Chicago Park District spokeswoman Zvez Kubat.
The state grant will cover $1.1 million of that cost, which the park district is required to match, Tim Schweizer, Illinois Department of Natural Resources spokesman, said.
Out of all park projects, Columbus Park is slated to receive the most grant money.
It's not clear when the work will begin at Columbus Park, as the park district is in the process of finding a construction contractor, Kubat said. Once the district selects a contractor, it will also have a better idea on how many jobs will be created for the project, she said.
Park districts and local governments from across the state applied for the grants, and each application was competitively scored based on need. The projects deemed most valuable were awarded parts of the $12 million in total funds, Schweizer said.
In addition to Columbus Park, other projects slated to receive money include the renovation of Frontier Park in Arlington Heights and construction of a "splash pad" at Ashton School in Ashton, among other projects.
The park district of nearby suburb Oak Park will receive $400,000 to renovate Lindberg Park on Greenfield Street, which will include a new park shelter and upgrades to its tennis courts and ball fields.
No other Chicago parks are expected to receive money from the program.
Kubat said the park district is "constantly applying" for grant opportunities for Chicago's parks.
But for this grant program, Columbus Park "was the main project we applied for," she said.
Schweizer said the Chicago Park District made a strong case for the upgrades to Columbus Park.
"They made reference to the park's popularity and that it's well used in Austin, and the community was in favor of the improvements in the application," he said. "They scored really high."
When Dwayne Truss, an Austin resident who serves on the Columbus Park Advisory Board, first heard news of the slated improvements, he said he was "ecstatic."
It's been a long process of bringing improvements to the park, and he said he hopes more high school sport teams, the Chicago Chargers football team and the West Side's Little League, among others, will make more use of its amenities.
Improving Columbus Park's drainage has been the biggest concern, because fields are often unusable after storms, and it's expensive to upgrade the drainage system, he said.
He said the Chicago Park District, the Columbus Park Advisory Board and Ald. Deborah Graham (29th), have been pushing for improvements to the park, but "couldn't do anything until they tackled the [drainage] issues," he said.
"They've been working hard, piecing together the money to make it happen."
Carlton Jones, who oversees Little League's 12th District, which includes Austin and Garfield Park, said the upgrades to the park are a "beautiful thing."
He said he hopes there will be a home run fence and a scoreboard for the new baseball fields; that way Columbus Park could host more tournaments.
"Typically you'd have to travel to the suburbs to play on fields of that level, of that condition," Jones said. "It's beautiful that those type of facilities and that type of field is on the West Side of Chicago."