Shorewood delays Atwater Park playground equipment

Concern remains over impact on lakefront bluff

April 17, 2012

Shorewood - Installation of new playground equipment at Atwater Park is being placed on the back burner as officials embark on a study aimed at addressing the environmental impact of the area as well as stability of the bluffs.

The new course of action was decided by the Village Board after a two-hour discussion Monday. After airing myriad questions, concerns and one ill-fated motion, the board voted, 6-0, to conduct the study, which is not to exceed $5,000. Village staff has been charged with soliciting possible firms and bringing recommendations back to the board. The selected firm will not only look at possible impacts, but provide recommendations on mitigating any concerns that do crop up in the study.

Members of the Friends of Atwater Beach, a grass-roots organization in the community, have been working with the village to install updated playground equipment in the lower level of the park. The organization has pledged to donate the equipment, set it up and provide landscaping.

The entire project, as proposed, carries an estimated price tag of nearly $90,000.

Several board members have expressed questions about the overall effort, particularly a slide that has been proposed near the bluffs at the lower level of the park. The study will examine the environmental impact, address safety concerns and is designed to determine whether the slide and other playground equipment will impact the structural stability of the bluffs.

Other features of the proposed playground include a patented double arch swing that puts a new spin on traditional swing sets, a rotating net structure that offers children a safe environment to climb and a device known as the spinner round.

The village Park Commission has approved the location and design of the playground equipment, but ultimate authority needs to be granted by the Village Board before any further work takes place.

Presentation leads to questions

Earlier this month, FAB members Alicia Urban and Ann McKaig came before the Village Board with a formal unveiling of the long-discussed proposal. At the time, several concerns came out of the presentation, including the impact of the slide and maintenance costs once the equipment is in place. Urban and McKaig returned Monday with additional information, but it did not satisfy some of the board members' concerns.

McKaig said the goal is to landscape the area with native plantings and maintain as much of the natural setting as possible.

"We won't disturb what we don't need to disturb," McKaig said.

Early in Monday's discussion, Trustee Thad Nation attempted unsuccessfully to grant preliminary approval to FAB for the playground equipment - including the slide - with the caveat additional information would need to be furnished. Nation's motion failed on a 3-3 vote.

"This is an opportunity to keep this ball moving forward," Nation said of his motion.

Slide causes most concern

A number of board members, including Trustee Ellen Eckman, said they were uncomfortable with the slide proposal at this point - particularly since money has been put into stabilizing the bluff area in recent years.

"(The playground and slide) could be separate," Eckman said. "They're not married to each other. They're two separate issues. My concern is creating an expectation (with the slide) that would be very difficult to stop. I don't have enough information to make a decision on the slide."

McKaig said it is difficult to move forward on any of the logistics without clear direction from the board on the playground and slide.

"This isn't just an organic or spontaneous idea," she said.

Despite the uncertainty, Urban said there continues to be great enthusiasm from the community on both the playground and slide.

"I think we're there," Urban said of fundraising efforts. "We have a number of quiet donors who are waiting to hear the village's decision. They are willing to close the gap."

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