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Cahill: Improvements on the way to South Peoria park district sites

The Proctor Recreation Center, 309 S. DuSable
Proctor Recreation Center
The Proctor Recreation Center, 309 S. DuSable

Two Peoria Park District facilities on the South Side will see major upgrades soon.

WCBU's Tim Shelley talks with park district executive director Emily Cahill to learn more.

Note: This interview was condensed for length and clarity.

TIM SHELLEY: The Peoria City Council a couple weeks ago approved passing those federal COVID funds to improve Trewyn Park. So what exactly is happening there? How much money, and what will be done with it?

EMILY CAHILL: So the COVID dollars were specific to outdoor recreation support. And so it was a natural opportunity for the park district and the city to collaborate. As we look at Trewyn Park, those dollars will help to support new basketball courts, which I know is something that people are very excited about in that part of the community. We're also going to replace a playground. We're going to do some walking path improvements.

So Trewyn Park is actually one of the first five parks in our park district system. It's a huge part of our history. It has a very distinct personality. And so to be able to make improvements to that outdoor space, and really serve that neighborhood better is something that we're really excited about. It was on our list of wants, with as much inventory as we have, we have to work through things. And so this will allow us to do this faster.

And it's a really fast turnaround. The city dollars have to be spent by the end of 2022. So we look forward to engaging the community in a public input process to talk about the playground, what kind of things they want to see. And we look forward to working getting this done so that people will be able to play in the park.

TS: So this is a, as soon as the ground thaws out, we need that we need to hit the ground running on this.

EC: So it's the first Tuesday in February, we'll start that conversation about specifics with our board and about opportunities for public engagement. It's hard when it's cold outside to engage the public, right, you can't have a hot dog, you know, shelter house kind of an experience and invite people to come out and talk to you because they'll freeze. And so thinking about how in the winter months we can really engage the community, we're going to work really hard with our board and staff to make sure that we get good public input. But we've got to be ready to hit the ground running. You're right. As soon as the ground thaws, we've got to start making progress.

TS: These dollars include anything with the actual building, that's kind of the centerpiece of Trewyn Park?

EC: The Trewyn pavilion is not included in those grant dollars. But that building is really... that's the heart and soul of that park. Just a couple of years ago, we replaced the roof, which was about a half a million dollar project. We continue to look at opportunities. We replaced the front steps, I believe, two years ago. So we do everything we can to maintain that building. We're working now on some just some maintenance kinds of things on the inside of the building to make sure that it is and continues to be the heartbeat of that park.

TS: And then another thing happening, actually also on the south side of Peoria, Proctor Recreation Center is getting a lot of upgrades. If you can talk a little bit about what's happening there.

EC: So we had the opportunity to work with Representative Jehan Gordon-Booth, who challenged us to put forth transformational projects. That was her word. And I love that word, right? When we have the opportunity to think about transforming spaces in places to serve our community better.

As we look at Proctor, we have been able to really enhance some of the program offerings there. We've spent a lot of dollars focused on after school programming on summer programming. And what we have realized is a need to spend dollars again on the inside of a building. This time, it's kind of the flip, right? We do a lot of things to the outside to maintain its historical integrity. We have some great ball fields and spaces to play outside at Proctor.

Inside, we have some needs for modernization. That building is a turn of the century 1900s building. We want to use dollars from the state to help us put air conditioning in the gyms, which will be a massive, massive improvement for the families that that play there. We have a weight room there that is pretty heavily used. And we want to make that bigger and move it. We want to add some technology opportunities to make sure that kids have access to things like e-sports, to a recording studio - like this right? - to be able to do podcasts or music or whatever it might be.

There's a lot of creativity and innovation and it's about a lack of resources for some kids. And so to really be able to get them access to those programs and to think about right like what's the currency that we might use to get kids? You offer all these really cool things that they want to be a part of, what do we want to do?

And so it is thinking about workforce development and how can we teach soft skills and put some job training opportunities in and use those as leverage then for them to access some of the fun things? We think it's really, really important finally to think about just dealing with the stress that we're all under, right? And there's a beautiful room in Proctor that right now is actually a room that we use for our maintenance staff and our storage. And we want to turn that into... it's got beautiful windows and natural light. And have that be a studio where we could do yoga and mindfulness and really give kids the tools that they need and families, adults, too.

And I'm stressed out. I know you are, right? There's a lot going on. And so giving each other the tools that we need to deal with those things in a healthy way. That's part of our job. And we look forward to having better amenities in order to do that.

Tim is the News Director at WCBU Peoria Public Radio.