After concentrating on making improvements to its parks north of Ogden Avenue in recent years, the village of Brookfield has once gain set its sights on a major improvement to Ehlert Park on the village’s south end.

Recreation Director Stevie Ferrari received the go-ahead on Sept. 12 from elected officials to submit an application to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources for an Open Space Land Acquisition and Development (OSLAD) grant of up to $600,000 to improve the southwest quadrant of Ehlert Park.

That section of the park, which includes a playground and picnic pavilion and is heavily used by AYSO soccer and Bulldogs Youth Football, is the last section of the park that hasn’t been redeveloped in the past 15 years. The tennis courts north of the west parking lot are being reconstructed this fall.

The improvements will include a new inclusive playground area with a poured-in-place surface, a new picnic pavilion and upgrades to the ballfield and soccer field. Other proposed amenities laid out in a memo from Ferrari to the village board are ping pong and chessboard tables, accessible trail connections, landscaping improvements and a renovation of the Kesman Memorial Garden.

Improvements proposed for the southwest quadrant of Ehlert Park in Brookfield include ball field upgrades, a new picnic pavilion and pathways, game tables, a renovated Kesman Memorial Garden and a new accessible playground with a poured-in-place surface and sensory elements to make it inclusive. (Courtesy Village of Riverside)

The estimated cost for all of the improvements is about $1.26 million, which means the village’s share of the cost would be around $666,000 and would be funded across two fiscal years.

The centerpiece of the improvement is the inclusive playground area, which would provide an accessible place for children with mobility issues to enjoy, but it would also include areas, such as nature and sensory areas, accessible to those with other kinds of disabilities.

“It’s the driving force behind this,” Ferrari told the Landmark in a phone interview. “It’s also the most costly piece, but we will have an all-inclusive park. We have a number of participants in our programs with a variety of disabilities across the spectrum, and we don’t have any parks outside of Candy Cane Park, which was just improved, that provide more accessibility.”

Trustee Jennifer Hendricks said that while she was happy the village would be improving an area of Ehlert Park that is heavily used by the community, she was particularly in favor of the inclusive playground concept.

“These inclusive playgrounds, especially with the sensory piece — especially with the nature play piece – if it’s a truly inclusive playground, those can be destinations,” Hendricks said. “Families come from towns all around to these places, because there aren’t very many in our area.”

About 30 people attended an open house on Sept. 15 at the Brookfield Village Hall to offer public feedback on the proposed improvements, said Ferrari, with the inclusive playground generating a lot of interest.

The improvement of Kesman Garden will be the first major overhaul of the area, which is just northwest of the playground, since it was established in 1999 in memory of longtime south Brookfield residents Tony and Martha Kesman.

At the time, the family gave $10,000 to the village to plant and maintain the garden, but its care and appearance has been inconsistent through the years, in part because there’s no nearby water supply.

Ferrari said the plan is to relandscape the garden with native plants species that thrive in the conditions there. The bricks will be preserved, Ferrari said.

The deadline for filing OSLAD grant applications is Sept. 30, and the state is expected to announce grant awards in the first quarter of 2023. If successful, the village would aim to begin work in the second half of 2023 and finish the project in 2024.