Hollywood Elementary School second-grade teacher Ryan Murray talks about the impact his students had in encouraging the inclusion of a zipline in the redeveloped Candy Cane Park, which was formally dedicated during a ceremony on July 16. (Jackie Pisano/Contributor)

Though the weather was cooler than a typical mid-July day and the sun was nowhere in sight, energy was high, smiles were big and excitement was in the air in north Brookfield on July 16 as the Village of Brookfield officially celebrated the long-awaited and oft-delayed grand re-opening of Candy Cane Park.

Located at the intersection of Park Avenue and 28th Street, Candy Cane Park has served as a neighborhood playground for generations of kids growing up in Brookfield.

But in recent years, the park had become more of a neighborhood relic than a destination. Outdated equipment, a lack of accessibility and worn-out grounds were enough to keep the park from being a favorite much longer.

In the early 2010s, Brookfield had concentrated its energy on improvements to larger parks in the village — Kiwanis Park in central Brookfield and Ehlert Park on the south end of town. By 2015, the village began looking into serious renovations at Candy Cane, which had not seen any major improvements in over two decades.

A child enjoys a ride on the Candy Cane Park zipline in the completely refurbished playground, which was dedicated — after a couple of washouts due to weather and the pandemic — at a ribbon-cutting ceremony on July 16. (Jackie Pisano/Contributor)

Funding for the park’s redevelopment sat in limbo — first, due to a freeze on state grants under then-Gov. Bruce Rauner and then by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

Work was slated to begin in late 2020 with a completion date in early 2021. But as village trustees postponed the project in the face of the pandemic, which impacted village revenues for months. Construction didn’t break ground until spring 2021.

Redevelopment funding was split between Brookfield and an Open Space Lands Acquisition and Development (OSLAD) grant through the Illinois Department of Natural Resources — a program to provide funding assistance to local governments for the acquisition or development of land for public parks and open spaces.

Village President Garvey awards certificates of appreciation to the former Hollywood School students who lobbied to include a zipline to the Candy Cane Park playground. (Jackie Pisano/Contributor)

Back in 2019, Brookfield applied for the grant and was awarded $340,000, or half of the anticipated original $680,000 redevelopment price tag. As the village board approved additional features to increase amenities in the park, the total cost of the redevelopment grew to approximately $750,000.

Though the park’s redevelopment was completed last November, with inclement weather and other events interfering, the village decided to hold the official ribbon cutting for the park this summer.

Redesign highlights at Candy Cane Park include a brand-new playground with ADA-accessible swings and separate areas with playground structures suitable for children ages 2-12, a bags court, a tennis and pickleball court, two half-court basketball area (entirely fenced and with separate entrances for each court), a T-ball field with base paths and a new backstop, ADA-compliant walking paths, a new picnic shelter and a rain garden with native plantings to collect stormwater runoff.

Brookfield Recreation Director Stevie Ferrari hands out snow cones during the Candy Cane Park ribbon-cutting ceremony on July 16. (Jackie Pisano/Contributor)

A unique feature of the park is a 22-foot SkyRun zipline track — a structure installed thanks to lobbying by students from Hollywood Elementary School back in 2018.

Students in Ryan Murray’s second-grade class were inspired to come up with the idea after reading a book called “Change Makers” about kids who work to bring positive change in their own communities.

“Terms like ‘legislative branch’ and ‘government’ don’t mean anything to a second-grader,” Murray said. “But things like this solidify the learning, because when they see what happens, they see what the government does. It takes those isolated ambiguous concepts in the classroom and brings it to life. With this project, the students reminded us to think big. I sure hope these kids go out and start doing more positive change in the community.”

Eleven-year-old Grace Campbell of Brookfield was one of the second-graders in Murray’s class who helped send in persuasive letters and draft design concepts about the zipline to village trustees.

“To me, this project was important because most of the time when something is renovated, it’s the adults’ ideas,” said Campbell, now a rising sixth-grader at Hauser Junior High School. “But, seeing this is great, because this time it was the kids who also got to add their own ideas.”

Prior to families taking full advantage of all the park’s newest features — and enjoying carnival snacks and homemade tacos and rice — the ribbon cutting ceremony included opening remarks from Village President Michael Garvey and Cook County Commissioner Frank Aguilar (D-16th).

To Stevie Ferrari, director of Brookfield’s Parks and Recreation Department, seeing the redevelopment of Candy Cane Park finally come to fruition was a dream come true. 

“This is why we do what we do,” she said. “This is one of those projects you don’t come across all that often. It’s been 20 years since we’ve seen a park of this size redeveloped.”

Ferrari also hopes that breathing new life into village spaces continues.

“We want to make [residents] feel like this town is the place they want to raise their kids and stay, and having beautiful parks and access to programs helps that,” she said. “We love our jobs — and I hope that’s translated into the work that we do.”