Cummings Square improvements get early OK from River Forest

A rendering of the proposed entryway to the Forest Preserve District of Cook County's headquarters at 536 N. Harlem Ave. The proposal is part of an improvement plan approved by the River Forest Development Review Board on July 17. | Courtesy Forest Preserve District of Cook County
A rendering of the proposed entryway to the Forest Preserve District of Cook County's headquarters at 536 N. Harlem Ave. The proposal is part of an improvement plan approved by the River Forest Development Review Board on July 17. | Courtesy Forest Preserve District of Cook County

Plans to build an addition at the Cook County Forest Preserve District headquarters in Cummings Square has received the OK from River Forest’s Development Review Board.

Led by the Forest Preserve, the project also envisions a suite of improvements at the park, located on the corner of Lake and Harlem, including accessibility updates, the addition of electrical outlets at the park’s E.A. Cummings Memorial Stage, as well as renovations to the comfort station and the various landscaping and paving improvements.

At the center of the renovation plan is the addition of an entranceway to the district’s headquarters, a Tudor Revival building that sits on the north end of the park. The building primarily serves as a contact point for residents applying for permits through the district.

The 2,489 square-foot addition, a snaking glass-paneled reception area that would face Lake Street, will improve visitor access to an elevator and bathrooms that are also slated to be included per the plan’s design, said Chris Slattery, director of Planning & Development for the Forest Preserve.

The new portal would be a vast improvement from the building’s current west-facing entrance way, an access point that visitors have compared to “entering an M.C. Escher drawing,” said Slattery.

“You’re faced with stairs up and stairs down,” she said.

Despite the appeal of superior accessibility, residents and some board members felt that the new addition seemed a bit too modern when paired with the markedly dated building, erected in 1931.

Board Chairman Frank Martin also aired concerns that the first floor bathroom access would attract an unsavory clientele.

“Sometimes there are people who hang out on the corner,” he said. “Is your idea that you are going to provide bathrooms for people other than your customers?”

Slattery conceded that there were already “people wandering around the building” and suggested that having the bathrooms located near the reception area would help minimize security issues.

Similar accessibility upgrades and the additional of electrical outlets are also in the works for the Cummings Memorial Stage, a concrete band shell erected in 1924 in honor of realtor Edmund A. Cummings.

These improvements would allow greater utilization of the stage, which sits just south of the forest preserve building, as well a more peaceful experience for attendees, said Slattery.

The stage currently utilizes a “noisy” gas-powered generator to run lights and sound equipment, she said. “It really detracts from the experience.”

The project also envisions updated walkways, the addition of table seating and plaza renovations at the comfort station located in the southeast corner of Cummings Square and the installation of a “prairie nature walk” in the park’s northwest quadrant.

Costs for the project are expected to come in at approximately $2.6 million, $2.24 million of which will go toward the building addition alone.

Work on the project needs to start sooner than later, said Slattery, as those expenses will be covered by bonds that expire in 2015.

“We do have funding right now,” she said. “We need to move forward though to use it, or else we’ll have to find another funding source.”

The board, which passed the recommendation unanimously, allowed the district to forgo traffic and economic impact studies that are usually a requisite for such planned development approvals.

The recommendation is slated to go before the River Forest Village Board of Trustees on July 21. Slattery said that the Forest Preserve’s board of commissioners will consider awarding a contract for the project at its July 22 meeting.

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