WEST TOWN — A West Town elementary school is starting construction on a new playground and playing field 15 years after administrators and parents began advocating for the project.
Parents, teachers and students have for years complained about old playground equipment and a muddy playing field that floods easily at Talcott Fine Arts and Museum Academy, 1840 W. Ohio St. Students often have recess inside, even in decent weather, because the field is still muddy or filled with water long after a rainstorm, parents said.
“There’s no drainage, so if it rains at all, the place is just totally unusable. And if it rains hard, then it’s unusable for days. It just becomes a giant mud puddle,” said Cristine Pope-Nelson, the head of Talcott’s local school council. “So there’s very little space for the kids to play outside, and they wind up having recess … indoors very often.”
Parents, neighbors and other members of the school community secured the $1.4 million necessary to overhaul the playground, playing field and blacktop surface after years of advocacy and working with local politicians.
Plans call for the installation of a turf field, new playground equipment, redone asphalt for basketball, volleyball and other games and a community garden. The main cost of the project is an underground water retention system to prevent flooding, Pope-Nelson said.
Parents, students and local elected officials held a groundbreaking ceremony Tuesday at the school. Work on the project is expected to begin next week and finish by mid-October.
“Kids need to have physical activity, so with the indoor recess, there’s a lot of limitation for them, so they get bored. So that’s going to make a huge, huge impact,” Principal Olimpia Bahena said.
While members of the Talcott community pushed for the upgrades for more than a decade, the plan got its big boost when neighbor Judith Gethner met with state Rep. Delia Ramirez to discuss the project in 2019.
Ramirez secured $350,000 through the state’s capital budget; another $50,000 will come from state Sen. Omar Aquino, Ramirez said.
The playground overhaul was designed by local architecture firm Burhani Design Architects, which offered its services for free.
But the price tag on the project remained high, especially as material costs increased during the pandemic, Ramirez said.
School community members connected with Ald. Daniel La Spata (1st), whose ward includes Talcott. La Spata secured $650,000 through the city’s Open Space Impact Fee program, a fund developers pay into when opting not to build green space in projects.
“The great thing about it is that [Open Space Impact Fee] dollars that come out of West Town or come out of Logan Square have to be used in those neighborhoods. They don’t go into some centralized pot,” La Spata said.
The remaining $400,000 comes from Chicago Public Schools, which has a separate budget from the city.
Bahena praised the parents, neighbors and elected officials who came together to make the project happen, calling it a “community effort.” She also thanked Talcott’s students, who participated in smaller fundraisers for the playground over the years.
“The funding is coming from three entities: the city, the state and CPS. But at the end of the day, one of the big wins was the community aspect and parents working together, and parent leadership. So we had a lot of wins here,” she said.
Talcott has about 430 students in pre-K through eighth grade.
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