LOGAN SQUARE — Earlier this month, the city announced it was opening park splash pads to help Chicago kids and their families cool off in the extreme summer heat.
But not all splash pads have been turned on. In fact, more than half of the city’s spray features and water playgrounds remain closed, irking neighbors who are looking for safe ways to beat the heat, especially with humidity levels expected to rise this weekend.
The splash pad at Unity Park, 2636 N. Kimball Ave., is among those that remain closed.
“It’s about to get really hot … and kids are not going to be able to cool off,” said Eric DeBellis, a member of the Unity Park Advisory Council.
Unity Park neighbors said while they understand the city has a responsibility to keep people safe amid the pandemic, they’re disappointed the city passed over Unity Park’s splash pad when so many other splash pads across the city were turned on.
The Unity Park splash pad is one of the main features at the small Logan Square park and provides necessary relief from the summer heat, neighbors said.
“This is something that people always look forward to and I just don’t get why [the Park District] has to persist in this,” said Betsy Elsaesser, longtime Logan Square resident and member of the Unity Park Advisory Council.
Unity Park’s playground was also shut down due to the pandemic. With the splash pad and the playground both closed, the park only offers a small amount of green space, which isn’t conducive to kids itching for play time, neighbors said.
“I just feel so bad for these kids because they don’t have a lot to do,” Elsaesser said.
A Chicago Park District spokeswoman wouldn’t say why the city chose to keep the Unity Park splash pad closed. But Unity Park neighbors named a few reasons based on conversations with the park supervisor.
The neighbors said the splash pad functions like a pool and all city pools are closed because of the pandemic. They also said the splash pad is old and difficult to run and that the city wasn’t able to hire a seasonal staffer, which is essential to ensure people practice social distancing.
According to Elsaesser, who has served on the Unity Park Advisory Council for a decade, the Unity Park splash pad was built sometime in the 1990s and is run out of a pump house on park grounds. DeBellis said because of its age, it tends to break a lot.
Unlike other splash pads at parks across the city, and perhaps because it was built more than 20 years ago, the Unity Park splash pad functions more like a pool than a mister, neighbors said. Kids are required to wear swim diapers because the water recirculates.
The Unity Park Advisory Council has for years looked into replacing the old splash pad. But Elsaesser said a new splash pad would cost upwards of $50,000 and would therefore require city funding. With the high price tag and the pandemic, the effort is at a standstill.
“We’re not really able to raise that kind of money,” Elsaesser said.
This is likely the first summer since the Unity Park splash pad was built that the water feature has sat unused, neighbors said.
DeBellis said the shutdown is about more than the neighborhood being denied an opportunity to cool off.
“This underscores the need to update important infrastructure at the park, including the spray pool, because this is an amenity that should be simpler to use and should be available in the summer,” he said.
Michele Lemons, a Chicago Park District spokeswoman, said the city activated 100 of the city’s 250 spray features and water playgrounds to provide relief from the heat. A full list is posted online.
“Locations were selected based on a number of factors with the goal of provided resources in parks throughout the city,” Lemons said in an email.
Lemons said Unity Park neighbors can use the open spray features at nearby parks, including Athletic Field Park, Kelvyn Park and Fellger Park.
But Unity Park neighbors don’t see why the city can’t just turn on their splash pad.
“The park district is very, very liability conscious, and I get that, but after a while, not having any kind of relief for the heat … I just think it’s cruel,” Elsaesser said.
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