The 2021 State of the Naperville Park District address is out on podcast, and has the fitting theme, “Rising to the Challenge.”
In the five-part series, park district leaders and elected officials discuss the district’s goals, finances, and projects, while taking an in-depth look at pivots the group made during the pandemic.
Pivoting For The Pandemic
Leaders shared in the podcast that keeping up with changing state protocols was a particular challenge. The district began taking action in February of 2020, anticipating changes to come.
“On a short term basis, immediately our team got together, a collective effort by all means, and looked at our current operating and capitol budget and cut over $4 million dollars in expense reductions were identified both on the operating side of how we could adjust what we’re doing, where we need less resources,” said Naperville Park District Director of Finance Sue Stanish. “And then from a capital side – what projects are in the works that we need to continue to fund, the promises we made to the community of what projects would be done. And those that hadn’t started that we could defer to future years, or even potentially eliminate.”
What Could Continue
The district then took a look at what it could continue offering to the public. Programs were adapted into virtual models, and inside programs were moved outside, thanks to the hard work of the staff.
“They kept coming up with creative ways to provide offerings, to maintain contact with the public, to give them outlets,” said Mike Reilly, Naperville Park Board President. “So it, just the response of the staff, and how they really just dug in and again, despite all the changes that were going on, they just really delivered.”
New socially distant friendly activities were added, like the Midday Spray at Rotary Hill, fireworks at Frontier Sports Complex on the Fourth of July, and the Halloween Nights Lights event in October.
Parks, playgrounds and trails saw a big boost in attendance, as the community looked for safe, outside activities. Golf courses became the place to be, with the demand to make online reservations for a tee time crashing the website on the first day the service was offered.
The addition of the 95th Street Community Plaza and splash pad and the partial opening of Wolf’s Crossing Community Park gave the public new spots to explore.
This year, with the introduction of the COVID-19 vaccine, the park district is optimistic that some of its traditional offerings can return, depending on state mitigations and metrics. High on that list is Centennial Beach.
“We’re planning for as much as a regular beach season as we possible can. We are looking at trying to do some advanced daily sales, so that you can purchase your daily pass for the day in advance before you come to the facility,” said Aquatic Manager Jackie Gonzalez. “Same thing as some remote, remote ordering for Centennial Grille, so that we’re trying…to reduce the lines at our facilities so you aren’t having to congregate with groups of people.”
Moving forward, the park district will continue to offer some of the services that have proven popular during the pandemic.
“With our programs, we’re looking at again, use of outdoor space,” said Brad Wilson, Director of Recreation and Facilities. “Utilizing outdoors, moving some of our programs to those locations where people are able to spread out, and what we’ve found is residents feel comfortable when they’re participating in a program that’s outdoors. Using some of our larger spaces, having smaller class sizes, all of that will continue.”
Some virtual programming will continue as well. And, residents will see the return of the Midday Spray.
In all, the district has over 50 capital improvement project initiatives for 2021. Those include infrastructure improvements like a new parking lot at the 95th Street Community Plaza, the addition of ADA accessible trail connections, and playground and skate facility renovations.
The complete 5-episode podcast can be found on the Naperville Park District website and on most podcast apps.
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Naperville News 17’s Kim Pirc reports.