To Nichols home
To North End (Murray gym) planning, March-December 2003, "timeline" discussion & drawings
Nichols Framework Plan August, 2003
To Dedication April 3, 20o4

Nichols Park Framework and North End Planning, a case study in park process
by Gary Ossewaarde (baseline September, 2002)

What the north end looked like before construction; from the fountain toward the east and toward old Murray

Nichols formal gardens before construxction  for the Fieldhouse Nichols formal gardens before construxction  for the Fieldhouse
Nichols formal gardens before construxction  for the Fieldhouse Nichols formal gardens before construxction  for the Fieldhouse
Nichols formal gardens before construxction  for the Fieldhouse Nichols formal gardens before construxction  for the Fieldhouse

North End planning in framework perspective

The Chicago Park District and Nichols Park Advisory Council (an affiliate of the Conference) are rethinking Nichols Park as a whole (framework planning ) and planning a new park interface at the Murray Academy gymnasium addition. The addition is under construction along 53rd Street on land traded with the Board of Education. The Council's intent at the north and west sides of the addition is to reconcile different desires/goals in the community: better invite the public into the new facility and the park (opening the latter more to 53rd), make sure the re-landscaped space is an extension of and is well integrated with the park's formal gardens immediately to the west, and to maintain the tranquility of the fountain/formal garden area while creating new multi-use space in what was a somewhat dead corner of the park before the construction. The Council prepared a plan, a revision/response to the most recent plan of the District. The Council consulted stakeholder groups and presented the plan to the District. The District responded in detail at the February 13 NPAC meeting. The process continued for that part of the park and led to approval, with reservations, of what was then thought to be the plans for the north end. New complications entered and the Council said it had not approved plans and suggested landscaping for the formal garden area west of the construction becoming part of the Nichols Park Framework Plan, needed for OK for the north end work to proceed. It did approve in August plans for east of the formal garden but has not given approval for west, believing this garden should keep most of its English garden design and plantings and be special and spectacular, even if modern taste is for cookie-cutter low maintenance ground cover, perennials, and evergreens. By the end of August, the parties were moving to Garden Fair design, purchase, planting of formal garden beds under park district approval and with park district maintenance. At the end of September details on the Garden Fair question seem to have been worked out but there are questions about whether the plaza has been shrunk, if so at the expense of usable program space, in order to expand planting beds. See Garden Fair Proposal.

At its August meeting, NPAC approved the Framework Plan for Nichols park with the understanding that design for every part of the park must be made in full consultation with the Council before implementation.


Lessons: Consultation is an awkward matter for such projects. The Council believes, and so do other park friends, that the Park District is wise to discuss projects, from first concepts to implementation of details, first and early with the local park advisory council--the neighbors who live with the park year after year. The district can and should also hold wider community meetings and consult other stakeholders to solicit ideas and reactions as plans mature.

Construction starts for Nichols Fieldhouse, 2002Right: formality of foreground gardens is to be extended with distinctive pavers though an entry plaza at Addition.

Construction starts for Nichols Fieldhouse, 2002

Early construction. More below. See also problems at start of construction

Projects also seem to go better when the planning process is sufficiently long to allow new ideas to emerge and incubate as the budgetary cycle progresses.

The big issue in the case of the early design of the Murray Addition interface was whether sections of the raised berm of lilacs and hawthorn/other trees should be opened up. Some residents think this will and should make the park part of the 53rd Street streetscape and invite people into the park while discouraging unwanted behaviors. Others like the secluded respite offered by the present arrangement and think behavior problems are not solved by structural fixes.

At a community meeting on September 25, 2002, a majority preferred a option with two single-walk entries into the park. That to the east, leading south to the entry of the addition (on its west side), would have a single walk and low plantings, filling what was then expected to be a 35 foot wide construction access anticipated. (This wide entry was in fact not created, providing an opportunity to take another look, according to the council.) This "east" walk will lead into a multi-use performance/outdoor classroom plaza with planters, benches, accommodation for chess, and perhaps the Bird of Peace ("Egg") sculpture. West of the plaza would be new formal beds complementing those around the fountain. There was not consensus on the current west entrance to the park, but trees and shrubs and the berm slope could be pared back to provide more opening into the park.

More recently [spring, 2003], the Park District distilled several concepts into one plan, submitted for review. The Council and the District painstakingly prepared and refined plans. NPAC in its plans and discussion carefully distinguished between what was fundamental--especially the basic construction in and shaping of the ground--from what is topical detail, to be determined and maybe even realized later. (One item to be looked at is lowering and thinning the lilacs--see bottom two pictures below.) NPAC and the District also reached out to many community groups and organizations in the process. Several organizational representatives attended a NPAC public meeting in March, 2003 where the Nichols Park plan won praise and attendees drew attention to a number of ideas and considerations for safety and open lines, mostly in topical details. The Park District showed its rendering based on the NPAC plan, with a few variations. The meeting agreed to have the PD rendering be presented by the PD to the Board of Education and be the template for the north end. NPAC believed it achieved its objective of a strong and elegant design that will open the park a little to invite people into the new school-park shared facility while maintaining an appropriate seclusion and separation of the older part of the park in a park that is both part of the public space of central Hyde Park and also exists in its own right.

Much back and forth including between the park district and public schools, led to a basic design both sides believed will create a strong and attractive park enhancing the school, older parts of the park, and 53rd Street. Despite strong continuing disagreements among the parties and continued tweaking by the district and the Board of Education landscaper, the Council in August signed off on the design (east of the construction fence). Attention had shifted by park district insistence on major changes to landscape design for the formal gardens west of the construction fence and disagreement between the Garden Fair assuming more areas and more formalized responsibilities versus outsourcing the garden. Working groups were meeting and leading to a shared arrangement by late August. (See in Garden Fair Proposal.) The Council was very concerned about perceived problems with consultation and process.To timeline discussion of North End process and drawings March-December 2003.


Framework Plan for the rest of the park

To views of the Framework Plan as of August, 2003. Note, the drawing is that of the Council, provided pro bono by S & G Franklin Company. The Notes on the Plan are also provided in typing because they are small on the scanned document.

This plan was approved in principle by the council at the July meeting provided these questions are answered:

· Zone 2. The 54th “gateway” is too crowded and detracts from the goal of clarifying circulation paths and integrating the older and newer park sections.
· Zone 3.The play areas near 54th are not to be fenced.
· Paths and walks should be configured so as to discourage vehicles driving on the grass.
· Zone 4. At the hill and ball field, trees are shown, or alternatively removed, where the council thinks inappropriate and proposed contours and gradients should be reconsidered. The large floodlight should be removed from the ball field and we should make sure dark skies lighting is specified.
· Zone 5, south end, is fine except the triangular section in the walk at 55th and Kenwood should be removed.
· Use of recycled materials should be specified.

These appearing to be addressed satisfactorily to the Council by mid August, 2003, in addition to removal of reference to an alternative of commissioning a new sculpture to replace that in the south fountain, Nichols Park Advisory Council approved the framework plan, subject to full consultation with the Council on any ideas or plans prior to implementation. The Council is not in agreement that it approved the plans for the formal garden west of the construction fence or that such plan is part of the framework plan.

Background and outline of the Framework Plan

The council holds that careful consultation and rightness of details should determine whether concepts should be realized--including for placement of new playground equipment and use of fencing around playground equipment. Members observe also that the park is becoming a more active place; we have to think carefully about how busy we want it to become. For study purposes, the park was divided into five cohesion or use zones from north to south.

After a series of meetings and public-invited park walk throughs, drafts by the District and Council underwent study and revision, including at September 2002 and March 2003 public meetings. The Council in October submitted a paper setting forth the items on which it believed there has been community-park district consensus and asking "Is this also your understanding?" The District Did not respond and in fact came to the June, 2003 council meeting with an annotated drawing of the "approved and final" Framework Plan. Upon review at the July meeting, the Council decided that it can live with most of the plan, including some items that may be fought over if proposed to be actually done, but concentrate on giving questions about items or concepts missing or seeming to be out of scale or not accomplishing the stated goal. A special consultative meeting was held under Alderman Preckwinkle's auspices July 14 at which issues were essentially resolved. The plan was endorsed at the August meeting subject to the proviso and formal garden questions noted above.

What the Council believed was agreed upon Zones 2-5, as of early July, 2003. These items are in the annotations of the District's drawing of the plan, which Stephanie Franklin has.


Zone 2, East West Gateway at 54th Street

Improve pathways and circulation between north and south parts of the park.

Provide some kind of focal point at 54th Street

Zone 3, Open lawn, berm area, playground

Add spray pool

Add small children's equipment

Do not isolate play area (NPAC: not fenced, final silent)

Zone 4, Small kids' playground and athletic field

Return the ball field to softball dimensions (60 ft. bases (NPAC: without interfering trees)

Leave toddlers' playground intact

Re grade hill for sledding without tree removal

South gateway and Neighborhood Club

Install a path from Kenwood /55th to fountain wit appropriate plantings and benches

Create a noise barrier along 55th Street

rearrange plantings (and paths/entry) at fountain


All light fixtures to be non-polluting "dark skies" compliant with poles consistent with existing fixtures on south side of park, using salt and pepper poles.

Furniture and infrastructure of recycled materials

Infrastructure maintenance free and graffiti resistant

Nichols Park Council is also working with the district from a list of long-standing maintenance and park design issues, trying to put at least some of these on a fast-track basis. These range from plumbing, pathway, and ball field surface problems to return of a tennis practice backboard. These also vary from repairs to capital expenditures.

Finally, The City of Chicago is undertaking a fundamental zoning law change. Parks and open space will have their own designation. Nichols, being under 10 acres, will be a neighborhood park, but have a staffed special use facility in the gym addition. The proposed changes would provide some public process and restrictions over changes in use, especially for natural areas.


Construction starts for Nichols Fieldhouse, 2002 Construction starts for Nichols Fieldhouse, 2002
Construction starts for Nichols Fieldhouse, 2002 Construction starts for Nichols Fieldhouse, 2002
Nichols Fieldhouse nears completion, winter 2002-3 Nichols Fieldhouse nears completion, winter 2002-3
Nichols Fieldhouse nears completion, winter 2002-3  

March, 2003, Gary Ossewaarde. Middle right photo above and below upper right are aligned n-s to the plaza and addition entry as seen by kids, parents, park users using the new agreed-upon east entry from 53rd Street. The two story section will house the shared-use gym, the one-story section on the north will house park district offices and activity and conference rooms.


July, 2003. To views of plaza during construction.


Nichols Park Council gets public notice into IGA!

by Gary Ossewaarde, HPKCC
August, 2002

Nichols Park Advisory Council President Stephanie Franklin in summer, 2002 reported success in Nichols Park Council's struggle to include public notification and other needed changes in the Inter Governmental Agreement that will govern the shared-use gymnasium addition to Phillip Murray Language Academy, 5335 S. Kenwood Avenue. On July 31, the key park district committee approved the final document and the Murray expansion project. Council president Stephanie Franklin and other council members joined school Principal Virginia Vaske, Alderman Toni Preckwinkle, and others in support.

The council fought for the principal that, since parks and other public facilities are administered by their governing bodies for the public, the public should expect to be informed of major changes and have a reasonable chance to affect the outcome before changes go into effect. In the end, this simple logic prevailed. The annual use schedule agreement between the school principal and park supervisor will be posted within 10 days after it is agreed upon. Notice of proposed changes to or termination of the agreement itself will be posted within 45 days of final agreement. Actual posting will be by the park district on the addition's bulletin board.

Naturally, the park and school advisory councils and other citizens and organizations will have to monitor the bulletin boards and maintain open communication with staff and officers of the Chicago Board of Education and Park District.

The language accepted by the board and district, at the facilitation of park district officer Diane Minor, was proposed by Friends of the Parks. It was endorsed and requested by Alderman Toni Preckwinkle (4th).

The Council and HPKCC, in which the council is an affiliate, thank all who supported their effort to forge a governing agreement that reflects the democratic and inclusive values of Hyde Park.

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