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Local News

Joliet's Pilcher Park plans under review amid accessibility concerns

The Pilcher Park dam is seen in March. The Joliet Park District has paused Pilcher Park plans while staff consults with the district's attorney and an expert in park accessibility amid concerns raised by the Will-Grundy Center for Independent Living.
The Pilcher Park dam is seen in March. The Joliet Park District has paused Pilcher Park plans while staff consults with the district's attorney and an expert in park accessibility amid concerns raised by the Will-Grundy Center for Independent Living.

JOLIET — The Joliet Park District has paused Pilcher Park plans while staff consult with the district's attorney and an expert in park accessibility amid concerns raised by the Will-Grundy Center for Independent Living.

Construction bids on the $2.2 million project were supposed to go out this week, but park board President Glen Marcum said he's decided to pull back so the plan can be reviewed.

In question is whether the conversion of a driveable main loop into a recreational trail would unnecessarily limit people with disabilities from venturing into the heart of the park.

Pam Heavens, executive director for WGCIL, said the district should have reached out to those with disabilities and organizations like WGCIL before moving forward.

“We were not invited to offer comment,” she said.

The Park District board voted July 27 to move ahead with one of two plans presented at the same meeting by Ruettiger, Tonelli & Associates, the design consultant firm hired.

Marcum said that night marked the first time the plan was ever presented during a public meeting. Two residents then raised concern about the design and lack of public input, but the board moved forward anyway.

Marcum said the changes to the loop are not as dramatic as perceived. A different section of the park will remain driveable, he said.

Rita Rogan, a park user and licensed clinical psychologist who previously served as a Section 504 coordinator for the state of Michigan, is working with Heavens on an upcoming event at Pilcher Park to raise awareness about accessibility issues.

Marcum questioned the intentions of Rogan, who is an organizer for the Facebook group Save the Pilcher Park Dam, which has deeply criticized the district in recent years over the dam's possible removal.

“I think [Pam Heavens] raises some good points, and we took those into consideration," he said. "But [Save the Pilcher Park Dam] also wants it their way or no way.”

Rogan said while she is part of the Facebook group, her involvement with accessibility issues dates back decades.

"This is not a light issue for me. ... I have been involved in the field for a number of years," she said.

John McGovern, president of Recreation Accessibility Consultants LLC, said park staff has asked that his organization review the plans. Staff will compare the plans with the Illinois Accessibility Code, ADA Standards for Accessible Design and pending federal ADA guidelines for outdoor recreation.

“I know from talking with the district that their intent is to fully comply," he said. "We believe here that we would much rather have the Park District go further toward compliance than fall short.”

Heavens said she has concerns about the district's lack of an ADA officer and a written transition plan that addresses deficiencies found within the park's sites.

A 2012 ADA report evaluating district sites obtained by Heavens is "bare bones," she said, and doesn't address issues with policies or trails, picnic tables and other public facilities.

"I was surprised how short the report was," she said.

Marcum said he is taking Heavens' concerns into consideration.

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IF YOU GO

WHAT: Stroll 'n' Roll 'n' Survey our Park event

WHEN: 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. Oct. 3

WHERE: Pilcher Park

INFORMATION: The public is invited to provide input to the Joliet Park District on the board's proposed renovation plan for Pilcher Park. Pam Heavens, executive director of the Will-Grundy Center for Independent Living and Rita Rogan, former Section 504 coordinator for the state of Michigan and the National Governor's Association will attend. An appearance by Jack Catlin, ADA consultant for the U.S. Department of Justice, is also possible.

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