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Today, the Chicago Park District Board of Commissioners voted to approve changes to the District’s Code to create the Office of Prevention and Accountability (OPA). This new office, which is a cornerstone of the Park District’s plan to rebuild trust with its employees and the community. The Board also approved the contract for the Washington Park Framework Plan which will help guide long term plans for the historic park and renamed Kolmar Park, in honor of poet and author Gertrud Kolmar. Also, during the meeting which was held at Fosco Park, 1312 S. Racine, Chicago Park District Interim General Superintendent Rosa Escareno gave a presentation to commemorate the centennial birthday of the late Harold Washington, Chicago’s first African American Mayor.  

Following the Board’s unanimous vote to approve changes to Chapter IV of the Chicago Park District Code, the District can move forward with finalizing the creation of the Office of Prevention and Accountability. OPA will be empowered to prevent misconduct and hold wrongdoers accountable through fair, independent and thorough investigations into allegations of misconduct by park employees and patrons. The code amendments approved today were introduced to the Chicago Park District Board of Commissioners in January 2022 launching a required 45-day public comment period. During that time, District also hosted three public Town Halls and two additional Town Halls for the District’s workforce to seek input on OPA and the proposed legislation changes. Input gathered at these meetings was taken into account as the final changes were made to the proposed Code and will be further instructive as the new office develops policies and procedures.  

“I’d like to thank the Board for their ongoing support. The approval of these code changes is a monumental step in creating a work and recreation environment rooted in respect, transparency and accountability,” said Chicago Park District Interim General Superintendent Rosa Escareño. “With the updated code now in place, we can move forward with establishing the Office of Prevention and Accountability and continuing other measures, including mandatory employee trainings that signal to our workforce and patrons that their safety and well-being are of the utmost importance.”   

The code amendments are available for review on the Park District’s Website.

The Board also approved awarding Washington Park Framework Plan to Muse Community + Design, a Chicago-based design firm and City of Chicago certified women business enterprise (WBE). The contractor was selected through a publicly advertised Request for Proposals (“RFP”) through a target market search, which only solicits proposals from certified MBE and WBE firms. Muse Community + Design will work with the District to create a framework plan, which will serve as a long-term vision for the historic park. In addition to identifying improvements that address the needs of Washington Park and the community it serves, the framework plan will help the District and community stakeholders prioritize investment in the park as resources become available.

Washington Park is a 345-acre Chicago Park District site bounded on the north by East 51st Street, on the south by East 60th Street, on the east by Cottage Grove Avenue, and on the west by South King Drive. The park was conceived in 1871 by famed, American landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead as part of a large 1,055-acre park known as South Park, a complex that is now home to modern-day Jackson Park, the Midway Plaisance, and Washington Park. Today, Washington Park continues to reflect many of its original design elements, and of the three parks comprising the original concept for South Park, Washington Park remains the most intact representation of Olmstead’s plan.

The Park District Board also voted to rename Kolmar Park, 4143 N. Kolmar Avenue in the Irving Park community. The park was originally named after the street it’s located and is now officially named in honor of celebrated German poet and writer Gertrud Kolmar. Born in Berlin in 1894, Kolmar began writing at a young age. Although her work was first published in 1917, Kolmar didn’t gain recognition as a writer until after her death. 

By the late 1930s, Jewish life was increasingly constrained under Nazi control.  Kolmar’s siblings fled Germany, but she passed on the opportunity in order to care for her father.  Despite the harsh conditions, Gertrud continued to write, particularly poetry, and used her writing as a means to express both her sadness and powerlessness toward her the oppression, but also her hope for humanity. After the November 1938 pogrom known as Kristallnacht, she sent much of her writings to her family in Switzerland for safekeeping.

In 1941, Kolmar was forced to work in a German armaments factory, and in 1943, she was sent to Auschwitz where she died.  After the war, her brother-in-law spearheaded the effort to collect and publish her writings.  Posthumous publications of her writings beginning in 1947, and continued through subsequent decades, and her work continues to draw acclaim.  Today, Gertrud Kolmar is recognized as one of the most important women poets in German literature. Kolmar Park is the 72nd Chicago park named in honor of a woman. 

Also during the meeting, Interim General Superintendent Rosa Escareno delivered a presentation to celebrate what would have been the 100th birthday of the late Mayor Harold Washington, Chicago’s 51st Mayor and the first African American Mayor to lead the city. 

Under his Washington’s leadership, the Chicago Park District built five new fieldhouses and acquired seven parks including:

•    DuSable Park, 401 N. Jean Baptiste Point DuSable Lake Shore Drive
•    Dearborn Park, 865 S. Park Terrace 
•    Brown Memorial Park, 634 E. 86th Street
•    Mayor Ogden Plaza Park, 429 N. Columbus Drive
•    McInerney Park, 4446 S. Emerald Avenue
•    Park No. 468, 4556 W. 56th Street
•    Roosevelt Park, 62 W. Roosevelt Road

In honor of his lasting contributions to our park system, Harold Washington has two parks named in his honor; Harold Washington Memorial Park, located at 7710 N. Paulina in Rogers Park and Harold Washington Park, located at 5200 S. Hyde Park Boulevard in Hyde Park.   

This Saturday, April 23rd at 11am, the District will commemorate Washington’s centennial birthday by hosting a celebration and rededication of Harold Washington Park in Hyde Park.  A Horse Chestnut tree will be planted in the park to memorialize the occasion. Also on that day, the District, in partnership with Friends of the Parks, will host more than 85 Earth Day events. More than 5000 volunteers are expected to participate. Activities will include parks clean-ups, tree mulching and adding fibar to park playgrounds. 

The Park District also took an opportunity to recognize its Water Polo Club for their recent achievements in the Brenda Villa Midwest Zone Awards, named in honor of four time Olympian and three-time World Champion Brenda Villa, who co-founded the non-profit, Project 2020, an organization that gives aquatic opportunities to youth in under-served areas. The Club was awarded the honor for their athletic accomplishments, including the U18 Girls placing third in the USA Water Polo Elite League held earlier this year. In addition, the Club’s Coach Heriberto Garcia was recognized for his impressive coaching record and supporting Chicago youth through the sport.