Oak Lawn Ice Arena, parks set for upgrades
BY MIKE NOLAN firstname.lastname@example.org September 28, 2012 4:28PM
Frank Di Cristina, director of the Oak Lawn ice arena, talks about the recently completed renovation of the facility. Other improvement projects are underway at the Oak Lawn Park District. | Larry Ruehl~Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 2, 2012 6:01AM
Frank DiCristina points out to a visitor how dry the air feels inside the Oak Lawn Ice Arena.
It wasn’t always that way, with moisture-laden air fouling up ice conditions and generally making the rink, 9320 S. Kenton Ave., feel like a terrarium while also pushing electricity costs through the roof.
A new dehumidifier not only will save on energy bills but also should help keep ice conditions pristine, drawing more users to the rink, DiCristina, the arena’s manager, said.
While not as visible as some of the other capital improvements going on, or planned, at park district facilities, the new system, which cost $230,000, likely will pay for itself fairly quickly, he said.
“A year from now we’ll probably have a better sense of what the energy savings are,” DiCristina, whose family operates Southwest Ice Arena in Crestwood, said.
Helped by more than $4 million in state grants, Oak Lawn is sprucing up or expanding a number of parks and other facilities, including the Community Pavilion, Memorial Park and Wolfe Wildlife Refuge.
The lobby of the Pavilion, 9401 S. Oak Park Ave., is being remodeled, and office space is being renovated, but one of the biggest improvements there will be the addition of a second gym, park district director Maddie Singler-Kelly said.
“We are desperate for gym space in Oak Lawn,” she said. “There is already a waiting list to use the gym.”
She said ground should be broken soon, but the district doesn’t yet have an expected completion date for the work.
Rebirth of ‘Rocket Slide Park’
Grant money paid for the installation this summer of a splash pad adjacent to the pool at Centennial Park, 93rd Street and Nashville Avenue, and that is among the grant-funded improvements planned for next year at Memorial Park, 102nd Street and Major Avenue.
But perhaps the most anticipated addition to the park will be the return of an old favorite, the Rocket Slide.
Installed at the park during the heady days of the “space race,” the slide resembled a rocket ship, with “Astro City” emblazoned at the top. To a little kid, the towering structure probably seemed as big as a Saturn V rocket.
“Even though I lived in the city, when I was little, I would pedal my bike (to the park),” Singler-Kelly said. “We’d all say, ‘Let’s go to Rocket Slide Park.’ ”
The slide was pulled out more than two decades ago, and while the park district wasn’t able to track down an exact duplicate, “we were able to find something very similar,” Singler-Kelly said.
“It will be very impressive,” she said.
More than $1 million worth of improvements are planned, with work starting in the spring, and other features will include more walking paths and landscaping around the pond, she said.
“It’s going to look like a whole new park,” Singler-Kelly said.
Wolfe, Chicago Ridge Prairie
With the aid of a grant from Oak Lawn, the park district has completed work on a small playground at 109th Street and Laramie Avenue as part of a broader project to improve the Wolfe Wildlife Refuge. A larger park at 110th Street and Lavergne Avenue, dubbed “Big Wolfe” by the park district, is nearing completion.
The nature-themed playground, supported by a state grant, should be finished sometime in October, Singler-Kelly said.
The Chicago Ridge Prairie, at about 105th Street just west of Central Avenue, actually is in Chicago Ridge but was bought by the Oak Lawn Park District several years ago. The district wants to improve access to the property by installing walking paths and an overlook station, with work starting in the spring, Singler-Kelly said.
“We want to get kids outside and in touch with nature,” she said.
At the Ice Arena, work also included leveling the rink’s floor which, in turn, also will save energy, DiCristina said.
While the surface is smooth, all that frozen water — the rink is 200 feet by 100 feet — sits on sand. The thickness of the ice varied, causing chillers that keep the ice frozen to work harder, he said. Leveling the sand and keeping a uniform thickness will help reduce energy consumption, DiCristina said.
Energy savings also should be realized with the installation of new scoreboards at the ice arena, which will use light-emitting diodes, he said. An advertising arrangement on the scoreboards from Christ Medical Center will cover the cost of the boards, DiCristina said.