City's parks to become more accessible

A $35 million bond issue will help bring the city's parks into compliance with federal disability standards, park officials say.

The Park District board of commissioners met yesterday to discuss the proposed bond issue, which would fund renovations designed to make the city's approximately 570 parks more accessible to disabled residents.

"This is the first time a bond of this size has been proposed for the Park District," said board president Gery J. Chico.

Many city parks are in need of repairs and renovations in order to make them accessible to the 600,000 Chicago residents with disabilities, says Mike Kelly, the park district's chief operations officer.

Although the Americans with Disabilities Act began mandating changes in 1990, a lack of funding has slowed progress, Kelly says.

Plans call for the bond proceeds to fund renovations including barrier removal, improvements to beach walks, paths, parking lots and playgrounds and the addition of pool lifts, wheelchair ramps and accessible washrooms.

Gia Biagi, director of planning and development for the park district, says the bond proceeds would make 280 city parks fully accessible.

"Everything new that we are building is truly accessible," says Biagi. "We are really pushing the envelope to be accessible."

Many Chicago parks have already undergone renovations to improve accessibility, Biagi says, like the raised planting boxes added at Chase Park on North Ashland Avenue and accessible swings at Mt. Greenwood Park on 111th Street and South Central Avenue.

In addition to physical improvements, the Park District has also introduced disability awareness and etiquette training for its 3000 year-round and 1000 seasonal employees.

Joe Albrittno, a representative of Mayor Richard M. Daley office, told the board that the improvements will also boost the city's 2016 Olympic bid.