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Thursday, July 16, 2009 10:48 am

Erin’s Pavilion at Southwind set to open this fall

Developers rely on “team approach” for park’s plans

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Erin’s Pavilion, the park’s 15,000-square-foot welcome center, features rental space that can seat up to 350 people.
PHOTO BY AMANDA ROBERT

Before developers installed the children’s playground at Edwin Watts Southwind Park, they spent an entire day discussing their options with representatives from United Cerebral Palsy Land of Lincoln, Sparc and the Hope Institute for Children and Families.

Diane Mathis, a lead developer for the new 80-acre “all-abilities” venue near the intersection of Interstate 55 and Toronto Road, says the playground she initially pegged as last on the list emerged as the special task force’s top choice.

“We just don’t know everything,” Mathis says. “Instead of us thinking that we do, we’ve reached out to groups that work with individuals with disabilities. That’s how we’re doing everything — from a team approach.”

Due to developers’ meticulous planning, plus months of rainy weather, Mathis confirms that they’ll open Southwind Park in spring 2010. The park, which caters to children with extreme physical and mental disabilities, was originally scheduled to open in August.

The park district already allocated $8 million to the project through special recreation tax funds and general obligation and revenue bonds, says executive director Mike Stratton, but now the cash-strapped organization can save an extra $144,000 in operating costs due to the opening date change. Plus, he adds, more amenities will be ready for public use by next spring.

In the next two months, Mathis says, they’ll finish the 2.5-mile urban pathway, color-coded in four different colors so people with cognitive disabilities can navigate through the park; the sports courts, which include bocce ball, shuffleboard and horseshoes; the picnic shelters; the lakeside gazebo; and irrigation and plantings for the sensory gardens.

Other park features in the works include an outdoor amphitheater, a children’s museum, an indoor recreation/sports complex, three fishing piers, and an accessible treehouse.

Erin’s Pavilion, the park’s 15,000-square-foot welcome center, is scheduled to open in November. The pavilion will exceed Americans with Disabilities Act standards for accessibility and achieve Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Platinum certification for its renewable-energy efforts. It’s been a challenge, Mathis says, but they hope the finished product will serve as a national model in both arenas.

“We want to see this function,” Butch Elzea, the park’s other lead developer, agrees. “The whole reason we’re building this isn’t to look at it, it’s got to function.”

In addition to rental space, the building features a 3,000-square-foot terrace, four program rooms, family locker rooms with showers and special calming rooms for children with disabilities. The combined use of solar panels, a wind turbine and a geothermal system will pay for at least 80 percent of the pavilion’s energy costs, Mathis says.

Developers estimate that the Southwind Park project will cost $16 million. In addition to park district funding, Mathis says, they’ve secured more than $1 million in cash donations, $3.5 million in grant awards and more than $2.5 million in in-kind contributions.

Leslie Sgro, the park board president, says Mathis and Elzea have moved the park along at an impressive speed. They started from the ground up in 2006 [see “How to build partnerships,” Aug. 7, 2008] with the installation of water, sewer and electric and have committed themselves to Southwind Park’s success ever since.

“We’ve set a lot of very ambitious targets, and we’re making them,” Sgro says.

Contact Amanda Robert at arobert@illinoistimes.com.

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