By Robert Felton of the Austin Weekly News
The Moore Park Advisory Council has started a petition to persuade the Chicago Park District to build a new field house to accommodate Austin’s growing population of young people.
In support of the effort, the council is holding a meeting Saturday at Moore Park, 5085 W. Adams St., from 2 to 3:30 p.m.
“The Austin community has outgrown their year-round field house at Moore Park and they need a larger indoor facility to meet the needs of the children on the West Side,” said Karl Brinson, president of the advisory council.
“There are dozens of children who would benefit from expanding the size of this field house and staff.
“If they don’t have access to the programs available through the park district to occupy their time during the hours after school and in the summer, they will become idle and be more inclined to engage in illegal activities.”
Gladys Williams, vice president of the advisory council, says that the field house has only two rooms and three computers for students to use and that because of a staff shortage, the front desk clerk must wear an extra hat as facilitator on Mondays and Wednesdays when the park hosts track and field events.
“A staff person must attend to her duties at the desk, for example, when random people walk in and ask for directions or the use of a bathroom,” Williams said.
“But she also has to oversee the track-and-field class to assure that the children involved are doing their warm-ups and properly keeping time. The lack of staff help makes it very difficult.”
Brinson says the current facility isn’t suited for tutoring students.
“The study area where the computers are located is in the same room as the front desk and where park visitors must walk through in order to use the washroom or use the computers themselves,” Brinson said.
“All of that foot traffic is not conducive to study and makes the work of the tutors that much more difficult. There is no extra room for children to get help with their homework. Everything must be done in one of two rooms.”
The existing facility has no gymnasium, which means that such outdoor sports as basketball must be played at a separate field house’s gym during the winter months.
Brinson says that his attempts to work with the Chicago Park District to build a modern field house is an effort that began 10 years ago when the group reached out to previous Park District Superintendent David Doig.
“At the time, Moore Park was very close to making a rebuilding deal happen, but once Doig left and was replaced by Timothy Mitchell, the processed began to stall,” Brinson said.
Opened in 1929 to honor former Austin resident and Chicago Police Department officer Maurice Moore, the park was once well-equipped to meet the needs of the many children it served.
Even though demand for services there has risen, the park district’s budget shortfalls have forced cuts at Moore and other local parks. The advisory council is aware that the resources available to pay for a new field house or hire more staff may not be readily accessible.
Nevertheless, the council is arguing that the park must keep up with the needs of the estimated 22,600 youth in Austin community.
The council estimates that a new facility would cost $8 million and that it’s open to fundraising for the project if the park district can’t help.
“The Austin community is expanding every year, but this facility has not expanded in 80 years. There is something fundamentally wrong with that,” Williams said.
Calls to the Chicago Park District for this story were not returned.