By Bob Uphues
As a student at Congress Park School in the 1980s, Shannon Kudia says she remembers playing on the wooden playground equipment on the south side of the campus.
In 2016, as the mother of three Congress Park students and a past president of the Congress Park PTO, Kudia is leading an effort to replace that old equipment and spruce up the entire space.
"We want to make it one unified space," said Kudia of the playground, which is the de facto community park for the Congress Park neighborhood between Maple and Eberly avenues.
In May, a PTO committee charged with working with a designer to formulate a plan unveiled proposed improvements and the organization more recently launched a fundraising effort to help pay for what will cost an estimated $50,000 to complete.
The PTO hired Sara Kreiss, a Brookfield resident who operates a firm called Spaces for Play Inc., a design consulting firm that specializes with daycare, playground and early elementary spaces.
The plan unveiled earlier this year shows that the PTO plans on retaining the playground structures on the eastern and western thirds of the site. The wooden play structures that remain in the middle third of the site will be removed and replaced with a set of six swings (including one ADA-accessible swing) and a "Spider Mountain" climbing structure.
"We really want to expand the play opportunities to ensure the playground is useful for all age groups," said Congress Park School Principal Terry Dutton, who noted the playground equipment is more appropriate to younger kids, but that the area is used by students who are as old as 12.
Dutton added the playground is used not only during the school day and at lunch time, but is used by two after-school child care programs as well as neighborhood children who use the playground after school hours.
"So, it gets a lot of use," Dutton said.
New trees are planned for each corner of the site and two more along the south border. The playground would also be more accessible to handicapped children by pouring a concrete pad along the western half of the north border and removing part of a timber beam barrier that defines the north side of the playground area.
According to Kudia, the PTO has about $16,000 set aside for the project. The PTO also believes it can save some money by getting volunteers to do some of the installation work and may be able to obtain money from District 102 to replace the wood chips, Kudia said.
That leaves about $18,000 for the PTO to raise, according to Kudia.
The PTO has reached out to local businesses for sponsorships, and fundraisers will be held on Sept. 23 and Oct. 7 at Gemini Gymnastics in LaGrange. The business is owned by a Congress Park parent. A larger fundraiser is being planned for some time in October, said Kudia, who is the wife of school board member Steven Kudia.
Anyone can donate to the cause by visiting the Congress Park PTO's website (www.congressparkpto.net) and clicking on the "playground renovation" link on the home page.
The fundraising effort focuses on the playground area only and not the open grass field to the east. Like much of south Brookfield, the bedrock lies close to the surface around Congress Park School and drainage of the grass field has been a longstanding problem.
The school district and village of Brookfield's engineering firm have talked about possible solutions to the drainage issues. At one point, an artificial turf field was considered for the area, but that planned likely has been scrapped, said District 102 Superintendent Kyle Schumacher.
The artificial turf would have added between $50,000 and $70,000 to the project, and officials aren't confident that whatever solution they come to regarding drainage, it might not totally solve the problem.
"I don't want to put that much money into a field that will continue to have drainage issues," said Schumacher, who said the district may look to move a drain that sits in the middle of the field and regrade the area to help mitigate flooding.
Ideally, said Schumacher, work on the field could be done at the same time as the installation of the new playground equipment and other improvements in 2017.
"We would like to do them simultaneously," Schumacher said. "It's certainly one of our need-to-resolve issues. And we want to resolve it."