WINNETKA – Dwyer Park, one of Winnetka’s most popular playgrounds, reopened in late August after receiving a much-needed facelift that aims to appeal to a broader demographic.
In particular, the Winnetka Park District sought to appeal to “tweens,” children between the ages of 10 and 13, in addition to younger children and adults.
“We found there was an unmet need for the tween demographic in the community,” Costa Kutulas, the village’s superintendent of parks, told DailyNorthShore.
The planning process for rehabbing the park, located in the Elm Street business district, began about a year and a half ago. The park had last been renovated 15 years ago and in accordance with Park District policy, the park was reviewed to ensure safety measures and community needs were being met.
The Park District spent months seeking community input to better understand what residents wanted. “Dwyer Park is one of our busiest-used playgrounds in our system. We wanted to make sure we were hitting the mark,” Kutulas explained.
After collecting residents’ responses — which ranged from requests for a zip line to a splash pad — Rick Schram, a landscape architect for the Park District, sifted through all of the feedback and used that information to design a park site that met residents’ needs. Schram is no newbie to this process; he designed the original playground for Dwyer Park in the 1990s.
Some of the feedback the Park District received was that residents would like to see the park appeal to a broader demographic, including tweens. At one point, Schram met with a group of tweens and presented some of his ideas to get their input.
The refurbished Dwyer Park now includes bean bag targets at the south end of the park, aimed at attracting an older demographic. There is also a ping pong table adjacent to the gazebo, where residents can bring their own paddles and balls to play games. The playground equipment was also reconfigured to include more movement features, such as spinners, rope and cable climbing for more active tweens and teens.
In addition to active areas, Schram included sitting areas under the playground platforms where older kids can hang out and chat. The park also boasts more benches in the south end for tweens and teens to gather. According to Kutulas, many parents said students from Washburne Middle School walk to the Elm Street business district after school and gather at Starbucks or Pete’s Coffee. Parents wanted their kids to have something else to do besides hang out in coffee shops.
While the Park District sought to broaden the demographic, Dwyer Park was also renovated to appeal to the young age set. A large seesaw was added and individual spinners, as well as tools to play in the sand. Schram said all of these features are popular with the preschool age group.
Instead of purchasing all new equipment, the Park District reconfigured some of the original playground equipment and repainted it to look brand new. Repurposing the original equipment was cost-effective and met the Park District’s goal of being environmentally sensitive. Some of the redesign was also to keep the park in compliance with the American With Disabilities Act. For example, the Park District included some rubberized surface around the equipment that is a softer surface if children fall.
While the process took about a year and a half to complete, Park District officials and the community are pleased with the results.
“We’ve had nothing but thank yous and gracious remarks. I feel like this project has been well embraced by the community and still will be in years to come,” Kutulas said.