Highland Park, News

Park commissioners get look at $17 million redesign plans for Highland Park’s West Ridge Center

Initial design concepts for a new community center at West Ridge Park were presented to the Park Board of Highland Park at its last meeting, with some commissioners saying they’d like to see more refined designs before moving forward.

The designs were shared with the Park Board at its regular meeting on April 24. Executive Director Brian Romes said the park district began discussing potential renovations for the aging West Ridge Center in 2014, and last year began working with design firm Holabird & Root to create a design for a potential new center.

According to the park district’s website, the plan is to build a new community center on the southeast side of the existing West Ridge Center before demolishing the old building.

Romes said the schematic designs were created with a $17.6 million budget in mind.

Rusty Walker, with Holabird & Root, went through the design of the 22,000-square-foot community center and highlighted some of the more notable additions, including a proposed 9,500-square-foot gymnasium for gymnastics.

Currently, gymnastics classes are held at the Centennial Ice Arena.

Other proposed components of the new building include a 1,600-square-foot dance studio that can be divided up into smaller rooms; a community/board room; a conference room; and three “cultural enrichment classrooms.”

“The building is oriented to the east side, which would be our residential side,” Walker said. “It’s a lower scale, it’s a little quieter, it’s smaller rooms. As you move into the park to the west side, we start to manage our bigger rooms.”

Walker said that was done on purpose to help integrate the building into the park.

The design plans pictured with West Ridge Park and improved landscaping.

He also presented a 28,000-square-foot alternate design, which includes administrative offices and a ceramics studio.

Walker said the reason the offices weren’t included in the proposed design was due to “some tough decision-making and data that was less favorable,” but he said the park district can bid the alternate to see what it may end up costing.

Additionally, he said that regardless of what is included in the final plans, the proposed building is designed to be added onto, and it will not look incomplete when work is done.

Park Board Vice President Jennifer Freeman shared a number of concerns she had about the proposed design, including the location of the gym.

Specifically, she mentioned how the design shows the proposed gym being located next to a parking lot.

“We wanted it in the park,” Freeman said. “It’s not in the park.”

Walker explained that the gym was placed there because of anticipated future additions, but said he was open to creating alternate designs that showed the gym in a different place.

Considerable board discussion followed, with some commissioners asking about a ceramics room and others asking what designs would be shown to the public.

Commissioner Cal Bernstein said that since this was the first time the board was seeing the designs, he felt it would be best if commissioners waited before making a final decision.

“I don’t want to make any rash decisions,” he said. “This is the biggest investment that this park district has ever made, and we shouldn’t be making any decisions tonight.”

Commissioners agreed to continue meeting and discussing what they would like to see in a final plan, and Walker said he would return with updated designs based on the discussions that he’d heard on April 24.

Residents ask for ceramics studio, second ice rink

During public comment, two requests were made from residents: include a ceramics studio in the new community center and add a rink to the ice arena.

Jennifer Klein advocated for a pottery studio, saying it was beneficial to her in multiple ways, including introducing her to new people when she and her family moved to town.

“Make Highland Park a ceramics hub,” she said. “Let’s make it an awesome program that people come to from other communities.”

Multiple residents also asked the board to repurpose the gymnastics room currently in the ice arena into a second ice rink. Nearly all of them said both skaters and hockey players compete for the one rink that’s available, and many of them, including Jamie Greenspan, said they attend classes in neighboring communities such as Deerfield and Glenview.

“I spend thousands and thousands of dollars at other rinks because we have no ice for my kids,” she said. “My son practices at 10 p.m. for the high school team because there is no ice for him to practice.”

Addressing the ice arena comments, Romes said there haven’t been discussions on what to do with the gymnastics space in the future, but said they may be included in this fall’s discussions on the park district’s five-year plan. 

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Peter Kaspari

Peter Kaspari is a blogger and a freelance reporter. A 10-year veteran of journalism, he has written for newspapers in both Iowa and Illinois, including spending multiple years covering crime and courts. Most recently, he served as the editor for The Lake Forest Leader. Peter is also a longtime resident of Wilmette and New Trier High School alumnus.

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