Through a pair of meetings in the past week, about 45 people — including Brookfield elected officials, village staff and members of five village advisory commissions and residents — kicked off an effort to update Brookfield’s vision for its parks and other open spaces, something that hasn’t been addressed in more than a decade.
And while officials say they are open to even more resident input before a set of draft recommendations are considered later this spring, there’s some clear consensus by those who have been involved on a rallying point — connecting Brookfield’s recreation areas to natural areas through bike/pedestrian trails.
“The whole point is to get people involved in the process,” said Keith Sbiral, Brookfield’s assistant village manager. “I don’t think that happens enough here.”
Last September, ComEd awarded the village of Brookfield a $10,000 Green Region Program grant to update the open space plan, which, according to Sbiral, was last reviewed in the late 1990s.
The village hired Hitchcock Design Group, which has been its designated parks consultant since 2007, to lead the open space plan update. On March 19 during a special meeting of five village advisory commissions, the firm kicked off the effort with an informal hour-long meeting where commission members and other officials suggested some areas to focus planning in coming years.
Village trustees continued the discussion and received additional input from a handful of other residents at their board meeting on March 24.
While several areas of improvement were suggested both by officials and residents — including a better plan for park maintenance, a recreation/community center, a community swimming pool and splash pads, a winter ice rink at Madlin Park, more accessibility and a dog park — more often than not the conversation turned back to trails and natural areas in the village.
“I’d like to see an opportunity to incorporate more natural elements into play spaces,” said Suzanne Williams, a former longtime member of the village’s Conservation Commission, during a discussion of the open space plan at the Brookfield village board meeting March 24.
More than one person suggested that the village should incorporate South Kiwanis Park, an unimproved area directly south from the main park, across the railroad tracks, into the new plan. Others called for officials to target connecting any interior trail system Brookfield develops with ones that already exist, such as the Cook County Forest Preserve District’s Salt Creek Trail.
“It can help take some of that traffic from the Salt Creek Trail to bring it to some of our parks, to come directly into our park,” said resident Doug Hoogstra on March 24.
Steve Konters, a principal at Hitchcock Design Group, said the meetings were the first step in developing a five-year plan for Brookfield open spaces. Konters said that, compared to state and national standards, Brookfield is lacking in terms of open spaces for recreation.
The village has a handful of “mini-parks” (tot lots that dot the village), one “neighborhood park” (in Candy Cane Park) and two community parks (Kiwanis and Jaycee/Ehlert Park).
“Brookfield is deficient in park area according to both state and federal standards,” Konters said.
But as that’s not likely to change much — the village is fully built and there are few unclaimed open areas under village control — Brookfield will have to focus on making the most of what it does have.
“The village has been served by these parks for the last 40 or 50 years,” said Sbiral, noting that many of Chicago’s inner suburbs face the same open-space challenges.
While Konters and Sbiral appeared ready to move ahead with drafting a set of preliminary open space recommendations based on input they received at the two meetings, village trustees suggested slowing down the process in order to engage more residents.
Trustee Brian Oberhauser suggested that staff should seek email input from residents, an idea seconded by Trustee Michelle Ryan, who also asked Sbiral to include not only a way for residents to provide that input but to post visual aids to help them consider ideas.
“I’d like more public input,” Ryan said.