About Gillson Park:

A Conversation with Steve Wilson, Executive Director of the Wilmette Park District

Steve responds to many of the questions and comments we've heard regarding repairing, restoring, preserving and enhancing Gillson Park:

1. I hear you have approved redevelopment plans!

I have heard this as well, but the fact is we simply have not. At the Board Meeting this April, our consulting team presented four concepts, lettered from A to D. Those concepts explored many ideas designed specifically for community input. The exercise proved to be fruitful; many of the ideas tested evoked considerable feedback from the public, our Board and our staff. The consultants walked away from that exercise with the direction that most of the ideas are not to be pursued.

2. Didn't we vote down all this stuff already in the 2015 Referendum?

The referendum in 2015 was for the approval of the issuance of debt to fund a plan which was created in the years leading up to the referendum. Voters rejected paying for those proposed improvements, but they indicated in many ways that we need to continue to invest in Gillson.

Since then, the Park District has built a new beach house and parking lot, which have been well received.

Prior plans and input certainly inform the development of a new plan, and a new plan for Gillson is what we're working on now. While some aspects will be the same, such as the continued need for road and sewer repair, other aspects may be very different because fresh conversations with our community will drive many aspects of this plan.

3. I filled out a survey in 2016. What did you do with those responses? Are you listening?

We are listening. The 2016 survey tested the aspects of a previous Plan (the Plan that was tied to the 2015 referendum). Results from that survey helped us build priorities for the path forward.

In that survey, the items our community rated most important were: preserving open space, replacing storm sewers, replacing the beach house, repairing the roads, and repairing the beach parking lot. Since that survey, Gillson remains mostly open space; the beach house and parking lot have been redone; and now, the baseline focus of the planning process we are currently undertaking is to repair the roads and sewers.

4. WHY in the world do you plan on adding 108 new parking spaces??

We do not intend to add 108 parking spaces. The consultants tested many concepts and ideas with the public, our Board and staff to get feedback: one of the ideas was adding more parking. The feedback from all involved was not to pursue the idea of adding considerably more parking spaces. In fact, we would like to keep the amount of impermeable surface the same in the park, or even reduce it.

5. Where are you putting all these parking spaces?

Since there are no plans to add parking spaces, this is not a question I can answer. We're asking people to tell us what they think about parking in Gillson: are parking spots in the right places currently? Are there areas that are underserved today that should be addressed? Let us know.

6. OK, 90 trees down?? That's just alarming!

I know it is alarming when you hear that many trees need to be removed. Please understand that trees, like any living organism, have a life span, and unfortunately in Gillson we have many trees that are approaching the end of their cycle.

Part of being good stewards of public spaces is identifying trees that have reached a critical point, and putting a plan together to remove those trees over time--not clear cutting of all the trees at one time. The other part of being a good steward when it comes to trees is having a plan in place to plant new trees to compensate for those that must be removed. While specific plans have not been finalized, it's my expectation we will plant more trees than we remove, and we will plant native trees to replace invasive species.

7. What's your plan to take care of the sick trees?

Our Parks Department works with outside experts who offer solutions on how best to care for the sick trees in all our parks. Sometimes, the solutions are quite costly and have a very low likelihood of success. Because of the low likelihood of success, we sometimes elect not to implement the solution, and instead, work towards replacing the tree.

8. Why don't I see a comprehensive LANDSCAPE PLAN within your redevelopment plan?

Once it is developed, the Comprehensive Plan will include a Landscape Plan. Our approach is to first identify where all infrastructure, such as roads and pathways, would be located and then create a landscape plan that compliments all other elements of the Comprehensive Plan.

9. Why did your consultants make four plans?

The consultants didn't make four plans. Four plans would, inherently, contradict one another. The consultants developed four concepts in an effort to garner public input about the different ideas contained within each concept. This was achieved: the feedback we've received from the public, our Board, and Park District staff has sent the unified message that no single concept is an acceptable option for Gillson.

10. Do we need to choose one? Why not "none of the above?"

The Board of Park Commissioners, based on the feedback they've received, has chosen "none of the above" and have asked for the consulting team to continue engagement with the community and gathering input. They have been doing so via an online survey, two open houses, and attending community events such as the fireworks, the downtown sidewalk sale, and the French Market on the weekend. Once the input phase is complete and feedback is assessed, work will begin on creating thoughtful options for the community to consider. That feedback will shape a plan the Board of Park Commissioners would consider.

11. I thought we were just going to repair the roads and sewers in Gillson.

Repairing the roads and sewers, for sure, is a high priority and must be done. But, the Park District feels it would be best to take a more comprehensive look at the entire park, create an overarching plan, and then implement the plan over time with the roads and sewers being the first work completed.

12. What's wrong with the Lakeview Center the way it is? What's the Lakeview money allocated in your 2021 Capital Improvement plan for?

The Lakeview Center was built in the 1980's, and very little upkeep has taken place since, other than some flooring, paint, carpet, and replacing the fireplace. Just like any public facility, it must be maintained and sometimes altered to make it a better resource for the community. Therefore, the 2021 Capital Improvement Plan for the Park District included funds to hire an architect, Woodhouse Tinucci Architects, to create a plan to renovate the facility. The plans have been developed and reviewed by our Lakefront Committee. The plans rework the interior spaces of Lakeview, without expanding the facility. The plans also outline a new deck on the facility, which would reposition the decking to allow for more light on the lower level. The 2021 Capital Improvement Plan has money allocated within in it to begin the renovation work this fall.

13. Why did you start allowing summer private events at the Lakeview Center?

Lakeview Center is enthusiastically sought-after during the summer months, just like every part of Gillson. As an organization that tries to meet the demand of our users, we began facilitating some summer events at Lakeview Center a couple years ago, testing the ability to host such events successfully while still facilitating summer camp, and with minimum impact on area congestion. It has worked well, and therefore we continue to do summer events at Lakeview.

14. Do you plan on making the Lakeview Center a large-capacity event space?

While the renovation work being contemplated does not expand the facility's footprint, it does provide flexibility for various group sizes to use it.

15. What new structures are you planning to build in Gillson Park?

At this point in time I can't answer that question, because we do not have plans. I would ask the community what, if any, new structures they would like at Gillson Park? We've received input about bathrooms at the sailing beach, picnic shelters, amenities at the dog beach...what are your thoughts? Tell us by taking our online survey, attending one of our open house events, or emailing me directly at swilson@wilpark.org.

16. Can we use the Metra and CTA lots for Gillson overflow parking, and offer a WPD school bus shuttle?

Anyone can park at either the Metra or CTA lot and pay the parking fee for that lot. At this time, the Park District does not offer a shuttle service, but could consider it in the future if the demand at the Metra and CTA lots is significant.

17. I hate concrete. Why do you insist on paving my park?

Hard surfaces, whether concrete or some other material, are critical to provide people of all abilities equal access to areas of Gillson Park. Different materials have different costs both to install initially, but also to maintain over the useful life of the material. From a cost/maintenance perspective, concrete is often a good long-term solution, but it is by no means the only option we are considering.

18. Will I need to walk in the streets anymore? Paths would be nice. But I don't want more concrete!

One of the main objectives set forth by the Board of Park Commissioners was to improve safety in the Gillson Park, by way of the Comprehensive Plan. Specifically, to find ways to manage pedestrian, bicycle, and vehicular traffic to make it easier and safer for everyone. Another goal identified in the planning process is to have the same or less impermeable surface in the park. Therefore, our goal is to put in walkways so people no longer need to walk in the streets, but find other areas to remove impermeable surfaces to offset the new walkways.

19. Why all these plans for signs everywhere?

At this time, no plans have been developed (only concepts), and therefore there are no plans for signs everywhere. The concept of signage in the park is to provide wayfinding to various amenities and areas of the park. Gillson is a 60-acre park; wayfinding signage is needed to help people arrive to the portion of the park they are wishing to be at successfully.

20. Why are you spending millions of our tax dollars on this?

The Park District's core responsibility is to provide parks and recreation to the citizens of Wilmette. To do so, we must make sure we are properly maintaining and developing public spaces. To make this happen, we must provide the financial resources to accomplish that mission. Gillson Park is often referred to the crown jewel of Wilmette. This is not hyperbole. It is a special place for all of us, and the Park District wants to ensure it remains special for all of us today, tomorrow and into the future for all Wilmette residents to come.

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