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North Park

After Complaints About Preschoolers In The Woods, Laurino Creates Commission To Oversee North Park Village Nature Center

The new eight-person commission will be appointed by the mayor.

Theresa Weed sits with children enrolled at the Forest Playschool.
Courtesy Forest Playschool
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NORTH PARK — After complaints about an outdoor preschool have plagued the area, retiring Ald. Margaret Laurino (39th) has created a new commission to oversee the North Park Village facilities.

The mandate of the newly created North Park Village Commission is to “plan, supervise, and coordinate programs and projects” in the village facilities.

The amendment to create the commission was initially introduced by Laurino on March 12 and was passed by the full City Council on March 13.

The new eight-person commission is unpaid and will be comprised of the ward’s alderman (or a representative selected by the alderman) alongside seven mayoral appointees from city departments like the Bureau of Forestry, the Chicago Park District and the manager of senior housing at North Park Village, among other groups.

Since December, a group of neighbors have complained to Laurino about Forest Playschool, an outdoor preschool, using the 12-acre Walking Stick Woods within the nature preserve at 5801 N. Pulaski Rd.

Manuel Galvan, a spokesperson for Laurino’s office, said the commission was not created in response to the preschool complaints.

“This group has been meeting informally for quite some time and the alderman introduced the ordinance to formalize the meeting and set it on a regular basis,” he said

The new commission will be required to give an annual report on March 31 to the City Council and mayor about “important problems, conditions or proposals” pertinent to the development and protection of North Park Village, according to city documents.

Earlier this month, that same group of neighbors appeared at a Chicago Park District Meeting, contending that the Walking Stick Woods area has “become unattractive” and that there is “unstructured play” going on there because of the preschool.

RELATED: After Fighting The City To Save North Park Woods 30 Years Ago, Neighbors Take Up A New Battle — Against Preschool

Matthew Mitchell, an attorney representing Forest Playschool, said it’s too early to tell how the commission could impact the school.

“I don’t understand the need for it and don’t understand the timing of Ald. Laurino pushing it through at this time,” Mitchell said.

Shylo Bisnett, a fan of the preschool and a parent who sends her child to another program at Walking Stick Woods, voiced her displeasure with the new commission Wednesday, saying Laurino “snuck” it through City Council without community meetings in the final days of her term.

“[This] may have a devastating impact on such a beloved place,” Bisnett said. “This is not how local government should work.”

In a City Council committee meeting, Laurino said, in brief remarks, she supported the amendment to protect North Park Village. The commission will aim to act as liaison between various governmental bodies and the senior housing operator on site, according to documents.

The new commission will also formalize the discussions that various stakeholders and city departments have been having regarding the nature area.

“You have a lot area that is uncoordinated,” Galvan said. “The goal of the new commission in North Park is similar to the one Laurino created for the Pedway system.”

RELATED: Preschool Dedicated To Letting Kids Play In The Woods Delights Students — But Annoys Some Neighbors

That Pedway measure, which is still in committee, was co-sponsored by Laurino and aims to create a commission to oversee and coordinate the five miles of underground walkway in the Loop.

“There’s no one authority, or entity, riding shotgun over coordinating everything in the Pedway,” Galvan said. “Different parts belong to different people, like Macy’s taking care of theirs and City Hall taking care of theirs. So that Pedway commission was to get all the different entities identified and then get them all to cooperate.”

The current nature center in North Park exists thanks to residents successfully fighting for a deal with the city in 1989 to preserve the former tuberculosis sanatorium as a nature preserve and not a shopping center, according to the Chicago Reader.

A conservation easement protects the land through at least 2064.

Additional reporting by Heather Cherone from The Daily Line.

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