Fort McHenry to be refurbished

MCHENRY – Fort McHenry, one of McHenry’s busiest playgrounds, likely will get a face-lift this summer.

The wooden play structure is “desperately in need of some upgrade,” Alderman Jeff Schaefer said Monday evening as the City Council approved a contract with the firm that will plan the renovation.

The firm, Leathers and Associates of Ithaca, N.Y., also was the firm hired when the playground was first built by volunteers in May 1994, said Pete Merkel, the director of parks and recreation.

It wouldn’t be feasible to conduct the renovations through a fundraiser and with a volunteer staff because of the economy, Merkel said.

If everything goes as planned, the renovation will occur over about two weeks in the spring or summer, he said.

The city still needs to hire a contractor, and it plans to buy the materials itself because Leathers’ proposals are specific on what materials to use and the cost won’t include mark-ups by the contractor, Merkel said.

Much of the wood deck, handrails and balusters and some of the facades will be replaced with a composite or PVC material, which will look like wood but require less maintenance, according to council documents. Most of the slides and swings will be replaced, too.

“The traffic that we get here is because of the uniqueness of this park,” Alderman Andrew Glab said. “It really draws people, and I’m glad to see that we’re going to use a lot more composite-like materials but we’re still going to use a lot more composite-type materials that will still keep the wood look.”

Fort McHenry is McHenry’s only wooden playground.

The project will cost an estimated $169,700, Merkel said. It will be funded through the developer donation fund, a collection of a development fees charged to residential developers for school and park improvements.

The city had applied for an Illinois Department of Natural Resources grant in 2010 to fund the project, but its application was not accepted because it did not score high enough in competitive grant process. That’s why city staff decided it wouldn’t be worth it to wait and apply again.

The renovated playground would meet standards set by the American With Disabilities Act.

The council also decided to hire Recreation Accessibility Consultant to conduct an accessibility audit of the city’s parks and recreation facilities. It also would put together a transition plan, something municipalities were required to have in place by March 2012.

“We didn’t have the money to fund the plan,” Merkel said. “That’s one of the guidelines that the Department of Justice set. They were expecting communities to have those plans, but with the economy, we did not have the money to get that project funded.”

This year, the council set aside $22,000 in the budget to make sure the plan got done.

Merkel isn’t sure whether the city will make the 2015 deadline to have all the necessary changes made. It all depends on the amount of work identified in the audit, he said.

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