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North End pictures in Nichols Planning and Nichols Park Views. Plaza construction. New formal beds construction. Great Bird of Peace (the egg) as installed 2004.

North End (Murray Addition) Planning

Nichols Park Advisory Council is still pursuing implementation of key components of the community design plan. See endorsement by HPKCC.

From the consensus of March, 2003 through the later disagreements

Nichols Park Advisory Council Plan for Nichols Park north end at Murray gym addition, with objectives and rationale

Please note that differences were ultimately amicably resolved, with a pleasing result.

The NPAC February 2003 Plan

For measurements see drawing below

NPAC's 2003 plan

Errata: the free-standing planter box (with the tree drip line around it) in the north end of the plaza and just south of the double entry walk to the north should be centered on the latter's planter box and have its north side aligned with the other boxes along the south edge of the north east-west walk.

The primary differences in this plan from the pre-existing layout are that the east walk is moved about 30 feet east of its current location (now marked by the construction fence) and the plan provides for continuing the pavers of the present formal garden east through the new plaza area.

Note: This basic drawing is that of the Council, provided pro bono by S & G Franklin Company. As of August, when the plan was virtually final, most of the concepts drawn on it are those of the Council.

From the Council's statement:

Several criteria for any final plan clearly emerged from discussions at our design meetings. Foremost among these, two objectives surfaced as primary goals:

The first objective is to resolve apparently irreconcilable positions: Protect the tranquility of the fountain area from 53rd Street noise, but at the same time open the park more to 53rd Street in order to increase visibility from the outside in. The second objective is to achieve a harmonious blend of the original formal design with the asymmetrical outline of the space around the new building.

We believe the design concept we have proposed achieves both these goals:

These two features are the most essential elements of our design concept. Without these elements, neither of the two primary community objectives can be met, nor will the rest of the design fit either:

A) Using the existing east sidewalk entrance will not work. Unless the double entry moves east as we have drawn it, increased visibility from 53d Street is not achieved without also removing the three tree boxes and chess benches (Area E), since they would obstruct whatever visibility and access was gained by the wider opening. Furthermore, the school sidewalk could not be moved east (Area H), without losing the direct sight line from 53rd Street into the school yard which th parents have requested. The result would be an 18-food wide space between the existing and the new parts of the design

B) In addition, the fountain area would be unacceptably more exposed to 53rd Street. A double sidewalk at that location was proposed to the design meeting in September, and was rejected at that time for that very reason.

C) Furthermore, extending the pavers around the tree boxes and throughout the new entry plaza area is the one most obvious visual element tying the parts of the design together.

We recognize that budget considerations must factor into whatever choices are made, and therefore the entire concept may not be achievable at the onset. However, there are several elements which could be accomplished later, without compromising the overall design concept, or sacrificing either the interior tranquility or the increased visibility.

Discussion and resolution at the March 13, 2003 NPAC public meeting

Several community organization representatives and Chicago Park District staff joined NPAC at the meeting. The Council described the plan and how it meets its objectives. Representatives from organizations expressed favorable reception and asked questions or raised the following matters for consideration or inclusion when the design reaches the detail stage.

1) Make sure that features to be added, such as murals made by Murray students, will be visible.

2) Make sure that shrubs and trees will not provide hiding places for homeless or criminals. This was especially directed at the west and north walls and along the berm.

3) Try to open up/lower vegetation along the berm more, possibly having clusters of lilacs closer to the sidewalk.

4) Make sure lighting is adequate and directed where needed.

5) Consensus was not reached on where to put the Egg.

NPAC stressed that it wants to see the basic construction parts have priority and be done first--the entry, the plaza with extended pavers, underground electricity and water. The rest is topical with details to be decided.

The Park District, led by senior planner Chris Gent, presented their rendering of the plan with some modifications. These were: Expand the east entry to two 8-foot walks and an 8-foot planter. Pull some lilacs off entry edges. Make the planters at the west side of the plaza larger and consider having one on the north side. Move the chess benches closer together and consider having modular small tables with 4 seats. Have only a 4-foot planter along the west wall. Three options were discussed for the Egg; the sculptor's daughter wants to make sure it is secure.

After further discussion, NPAC voted to approve the Park District presenting the agreed-upon NPAC concept, as shown on the Park District drawing, to the Board of Education as PD desire for BOE's obligation to put back the park. When it is known what the Board will pay for and the Park District would add to realize the concept, should a funding gap remain, NPAC resolved, the Park District would return to the council to jointly visit priorities.

After the meeting, the project manager and park district project planner went to the architect and contractor and got nowhere. The Park District was able to get matters straightened out with the Board, which agreed to fund the project through its obligation, out of line items (such as concrete, plants, trees), except for pavers--and apparently the Egg and electrical outlets. The Park District reported it is pretty well committed to install the pavers, as well as plantings, next spring and in the meantime use asphalt for the plaza area.

March 13 drawing annotated

Represents the community and park district agreed-upon plan, to be "given" (without these annotations) to the Board of Education architects. It shows the plaza as 2912 sq ft. Note this, because the story is one of steady shrinkage of the plaza and enlargement of flower-and-tree beds by the Board of Education architects (including landscape and reduction of open pathways that can also accommodate tables etc at an event, or benches).

At its July meeting, the Council reaffirmed this plan, with some questions. (The July rendering took the Egg out of the center of the plaza, there being various ideas as to where it should go. Late 2003, the Park District position is that it should be beside the door. The Council concurs but holds, with the sculptor's daughter, that it should rest on the original pedestal.

Nichols north end plan-as thought agreed upon

At the June 2003 meeting, park district and schools representatives presented an advanced design for the north end of the park, at the gym addition. This was quite close to final, we were told, the time being short. (It was evident the designers had not been apprised of key considerations despite repeated requests for consultation on details by the Council and to the district not to come with a final take it or leave it. There appeared to be variances from the consensus community and park district plan of last March: 1) The three west planter boxes at the new plaza would be enlarged and merged with the remaining east boxes of the present formal garden. The Council feared this might result in difficulty in volunteers weeding the evergreens. 2) Modifications and enlargement at the entryway from 53rd, 3) planter and bed height modifications, 4) the Egg near the wall and entrance (preference of the sculptor's daughter), 5) the temporary surface of the plaza will be asphalt; there is park district near-commitment to replace these with pavers like those in the formal garden in the spring, when the landscaping is also done. The basics of the north end design, the Council was told, will be done this fall, in time for an October opening ceremony for the Addition. The Council would meet and determine whether it can give the "agreement in principle" requested.

Meetings and exchanges of ideas led to a Council drawing which was in principle accepted, with remaining questions, by the Council in July, 2003, and also accepted by the district. This was reflected in a July drawing approved by the Council. It is identical to the March 13 but does not show the Egg in the center of the plaza.

After that, new complications arose, enmeshed in disagreement over design and responsibility for the formal garden around the fountain, west of the construction fence.

In revision discussion, the park district proposed to divide the three enlarged planters (that are transitional between the older fountain-oriented area and the new plaza) into west: formal garden continuation, center: junipers, east: tree. The Council counter, accepted by the district, compromised the sizes and shapes and temporarily put formal plantings in the north and south boxes and a shade tree in the center box. The district now insists upon trees in all three boxes and elimination of the cut corner of the east side of these boxes (inside the construction fence). Boxes and benches will be of recycled materials. The Council in August approved park district plans for the area east of the construction fence.

The Board of Education will do and pay for all the work except pavers and as noted below. Also, there will now not be murals on the gym west wall, these murals by Murray children are now being placed on the south wall of the new east wing. Pavers will replace temporary asphalt, and landscaping placed in time for the October gym formal opening.

The remaining concerns of the Council were: 1) providing power outlets at the plaza stage (Board of Ed won't provide, park district has arranged to take care of it), 2) when and where will the Egg be placed (B of Ed won't do it and parks has not designated any funds), 3) when will the pavers be installed and is district funding secure, 4) can taller plantings along the west wall be considered since there will be no murals there, 5) planters: Garden Fair member input into plantings and soil must be garden grade, not clay (Garden Fair has given input and the Council has voted to accept proposed planting for that area east of the construction fence).


Park District plan dated August 11

On Council drawing. Note plaza has shrunk from 2912 sf less 1493 to 1419 sf--by more than half. And planter boxes elongated to 40' (and without cut corners) go all the way to the sidewalks and all have trees. Meanwhile, the bed along the part of the wall north of the entrance has moved way out into the plaza.

Park District's August 11, 2003 north end plan


Park District drawing of September 20

There is a slight movement back of the elongate west beds, but the usable plaza space remains 1419 sf.

Park District's September 1 north end plan


Council counters of September 22-26

A. This plan splits the difference in plaza size at 2240 sf (672 less than the ordinal agreed upon but 621 more than the district/Board of Ed proposed. The west beds move another 6' west and shrink to 10' e-w, with the originally proposed 6' n-s walk between them and the existing beds surrounding the fountain. The bed north of the gym entrance shrinks to 10.

Alt. B of 9-26 modifies the above to answer park district objections that the September 22 plan "alters the scope of work" and hence raises costs.

NPAC's counter plan for north end,  late Sept. 2003 (2 renderings)


As it became apparent the Park District was not interested in further revision, the Council wrote a detailed letter to Chris Gent, the Senior Project Manager, with "B" attached. The letter went unanswered.

Thank you for your letter of September 25, 2003 regarding the redesign of the north end of Nichols Park.

We all want to make the plan for the new north end of Nichols Park aesthetically pleasing and functional while not increasing the scope of work for the CPS. We believe that the changes made by the CPS architect are counter to these aims. Specifically:

  1. Elongating the planting beds west of the plaza will encourage north-south traffic to cut through the beds. Leaving the beds shorter, as they are now, should help alleviate that problem and ease traffic flow.
  2. Elongating the beds requires that the trees at the west edge of the new plaza be placed within the planter beds, competing for water and nutrients with other plantings in the beds. Having separate tree boxes, as originally agreed, removes that problem.
  3. Elongating the planting beds will require matching timbers and additional construction. It will require replacing existing plantings damaged in the process. Leaving the planter beds at their present dimensions would reduce the scope of work for the CPS.
  4. The lamp posts on the west edge of the plaza will be too close to the proposed trees, interfering with tree growth and making the lighting less effective. Perhaps we should consider moving the lamp posts outside the tree boxes.
  5. Shrinking the tree box at the north edge of the plaza will help open the plaza to traffic to and from 53rd street.
  6. The CPS proposal to move the new double sidewalk entrance at the north of the park farther to the west is unnecessary, since in the agreed-upon plan the west sidewalk already forms a straight line with the sidewalk leading into the school yard.
  7. Your latest proposal to narrow the planting beds at the entrance to the north addition will not help to solve the more major problems listed above.

We believe that the changes made by the CPS have increased the scope of work, increased the cost of maintenance and decreased the utility of the new plaza area. The CPS changes are also inconsistent with the original framework plan and the plan which was unanimously agreed upon at the meeting of March 13, 2003 by the CPD, SECC, HPKCC, TIF Streetscape Committee, Murray LSC, CAPS, FOTP, HP Chamber of Commerce, 53rd St. CAARD, NPAC and the Alderman's office. Since the CPS architect was not at that meeting, it is possible that he was not aware of this agreement.

In your 9/25/03 letter you refer to "...Stephanie and George Franklin's request to expand the size of the plaza..." The NPAC is not seeking expansion of the plaza. We are asking that it not be shrunk from the original proposal. It should also be noted that the Franklins are official representatives of the NPAC and their proposals have the support of our membership.

I believe that we are close to consensus on the plan, but since there are unresolved issues and details in your letter, which are unclear to us, it is very important to keep an open dialogue and finish this project to the satisfaction of the greater Hyde Park community. Thank you for your efforts!

As construction of the plaza area began, the Council sought and attended small meetings with outcome as yet undetermined. The Council stressed that the concept in the agreed-upon March plan is to have a plaza that is community-usable space adjacent to 53rd Street.

The Council prepared an outline of its goals, concerns , and solution for these meetings:

  1. Community goals for the new design:
    1. A flexible, multipurpose activity space (in addition to new entrance)
    2. Expand, invite and funnel people into and through the park
    3. Blend existing design with the new; entrance flow from one space into another
  2. Problem(s) with current design:
    1. East/west too narrow; no space for tables, booths, benches without impeding traffic
    2. Strict alignment of all edges channels people in straight lines; no "funnel" effect
    3. 40' boxes separate two plazas, increase perceived distance, impede flow, present a visual barrier
  3. Solution(s) - require only relocation of timber, no plumbing or wiring changes:
    1. Leave space (5-8') between garden boxes and tree boxes
    2. Make tree boxes smaller, including north box - allow space for future furniture
    3. Lights would therefore be outside boxes, solving problem of tree/light post conflict
  4. Nichols Park is the geographic center of Hyde Park. It should be a focal point of the community, a village square, a comfortable, natural gathering place for events. Results of no change in the design are:
    1. Distance, visual separation creates two separate, distinct plazas rather than one unified landscape
    2. Less welcoming entrance creates artificial traffic flow - no funnel effect
    3. Cramped, uncomfortable as an activity space
    4. Visual distance/barrier between building and fountain plaza - "sailors" remain
    5. Overall less inviting, comfortable - fewer ordinary people sit and stay - besides, no room for additional benches
    6. Destruction of original 4-square, award-winning garden concept in fountain plaza
    7. Less pleasant space = fewer volunteers
    8. Not a natural "destination" for 53rd Street Streetscape Visibility efforts
    9. No flexibility for additional permanent or temporary furniture
    10. Most serious - lack of sense of increased visibility/access results in renewed calls for removal of all shrubbery along north edge of park.

The park will still "work" - we will make do. It will just be an ordinary, unimaginative park, with a building and a garden. We don't want an ordinary park, though. We want a park that is the focus of the community - a model for all other parks to emulate. The potential is enormous, and moving a few timbers could make all the difference.


Council representatives met subsequently with park district officers. Certain modifications at the new garden beds will be considered, but essentially the plaza is shrunk, at least until the time permanent paving is installed.

Again, all these issues were eventually resolved to the betterment of the park.