By Stefanie Santos McLeese
With spring weather days sprinkled in over the last few weeks, Monticello parents are a little antsy for Nick’s Park to reopen, which is tentatively set for May 5.
The well-loved park was initially built in 1992. The park’s signature wood structures were maintained past their normal expected lifespan but the wood material had severely deteriorated, leading the city’s insurance company to recommend removing and replacing the play structures.
“Knowing the sentimental value this park has to the community and Sanantonio family, the planning and design process directly involved the family and the community,” said Callie Jo McFarland, director of development for the city of Monticello. City staff solicited input from those with some of the most vested interest: Monticello’s kids.
“We went out to Lincoln, Washington and White Heath schools and asked them what they wanted to keep and what they wanted see,” said Carlos McClellan, parks and recreation director for the city of Monticello. “Some students even provided us with some sketches. One of the biggest things we kept hearing about was climbing; kids love to climb! And they wanted to keep the tire swing. I think they’re going to be excited to see their ideas incorporated.”
With student feedback in mind, some new features include climbing boulders, a climbing web, a tree-themed vertical stair climber, a fossil dig table and more sensory activities like bongo drums. With a nod to the original wooden structures, the playscape is a nature color scheme and includes tower toppers. The original purple swing set – with tire swing – will stay, but will be painted brown.
The playground is designed with equipment for children ages 2-5 on one end, and structures for children ages 5-12 on the other side. The 2-5 age group will enjoy two new expression swings (bucket swing seat with child-facing adult seat for parent to swing with child). The all-inclusive park features a spiffy new merry-go-round equipped with strap-in seats for younger children and those with special needs. The highest deck in the entire park is eight feet off the ground. Park standards require nine inches of mulch but Nick’s Park is being padded with 15-18 inches, to help further cushion those inevitable falls.
Parents who used to experience minor panic attacks when they lost sight of their littles behind the structure that blocked the southwest entrance will be pleased to know that the play structures will be completely fenced in. “There’s only one way in, and one way out of the immediate play area,” McClellan said. Another infrastructure update includes a concrete path around the see-through fencing, where parents can walk and push strollers while keeping a keen eye on their kids.
The bathrooms and pavilion will receive some minor cosmetic repairs. Future improvements include a plaza area with shade structures, an open grass field, feature treehouse and incorporation of several railroad-themed elements. The memory stones will be moved and outline the southwest entrance of the park.
“There will also be Gabby’s Gazebo, a community-funded park gazebo that will be built in memory of Gabby Galbo,” McFarland said. “And without making any promises, there is a good possibility that you may see a synthetic ice rink during the winter in the park as well.”
The Monticello High School industrial technology students have constructed two bike racks for the park, and will be designing and constructing a steel archway this fall, which will serve as the grand entrance to Nick’s Park.
“Even with these changes and improvements, everyone in Monticello knows one thing; this will always be Nick’s Park,” McFarland said.
Stefanie Santos McLeese is a native Texan, an independent public relations advisor and the mother of three children (5, almost 4 and 2) who are her “toughest clients.” She met her Monticello-native husband playing rec league flag football in Dallas where they married and had their children before moving to Illinois in June 2015 for a wholesome, Midwest, child-rearing experience, and near retired, babysitting-in-laws who live seven minutes door-to-door.