In 1875 DuPage County donated 3.8 acres of land to the city of Naperville. 136 years later Central Park still sits in the heart of downtown Naperville, but is now only 2.7 acres. For the past decade, a group of residents lead by Don Wehrli, have wanted to expand the amount of green space.
“The park belongs to every living soul in the community,” said Wehrli. “It doesn’t belong to the mayor or the city council or anyone else. It belongs to all of us.”
At recent city council meeting Wehrli pitched his plans to council members. The plans would expand the park 30 feet to the east and five feet to the south, resulting in up to 17 less parking spots. He also proposed to remove the portable bathrooms from the south side and build permanent handicap accessible restrooms on the north side near the playground. This plan would cost the city about $150,000, and council members say they simply don’t have the money for it.
“Overall, I could probably be talked into this proposal,” said Councilman Steve Chirico. “But I think this is the perfect project for private money, fundraisings, whatever.”
“We appreciate your passion and we’ll try to work something out in the future,” said Councilman Paul Hinterlong. “But as of right now, we just don’t have the funds to do it.”
But Wehrli says the city does have the money. He suggested taking the money out of the Special Events and Cultural Amenities Fund.
“Our city is a business, not a fun and games city,” said Wehrli.
He also suggested taking it out of the “rainy day fund.”
“We have already put those funds into this year’s budget,” said Doug Krieger, City Manager.
After a lengthy discussion, Councilman Robert Fiesler suggested the city look into the plan further and proposed to put the item in next year’s Capitol Improvement Plan, a discussion that would take place in January, 2012. The rest of the council agreed.
“We’re going to be involved,” said Wehrli. “We’re not giving up. I’m going to stick with this project as long as I stay alive because it’s for a worthy cause. It’s for a larger, greener park that everyone can enjoy.”
Wehrli also says the group didn’t address any changes to the West side of the park near the Kroehler YMCA, but will now look at changes before next year.
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