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PAXTON — After months of deliberation, the Paxton Park District board voted 4-3 Tuesday to formally approve plans to build a dog park at Coady Park.
“That’s a big milestone for us to just get somebody to say, ‘Yes, you can build here,’” said Paxton resident Jon Russell, who is among a group of residents known as the Paxton Dog Park Committee that had sought the dog park.
“We’re thrilled. We’re very happy about the decision.”
The park board decided on one of three options for the size of the fenced-in dog park. The dog park would cover one-and-a-third-acre, spanning an area from behind the tennis court and to the west of the volleyball court and skate park.
Said Russell: “It’s not quite as big as what we were hoping for, but it’s a start. It’s something we can work with.”
The area includes the soon-to-be-removed hill that had been a popular sledding destination. The district’s insurance provider has recommended the hill be removed for liability reasons.
The location of the dog park offers the option for expansion if the dog park is utilized on a frequent basis, according to the park board’s treasurer, Steve Sample.
“Obviously, where it’s laid out, we’ve got plenty of room to grow, so I think if it ever got to the point where it is being utilized to the point where we need to expand, I know the board would definitely be open to that consideration,” Sample said.
Meanwhile, park board member Kathleen McCabe said she voted against the proposed location because the dog park would be too close to homes abutting the north edge of Coady Park.
“I just don’t like it being so near the neighborhood,” McCabe said.
Sample stressed that despite the narrow approval of the dog park’s location, all board members were in favor of the idea of the dog park.
“I hope that tonight’s vote didn’t come off that anybody, at least from the board’s side, was against the dog park,” Sample said. “I know every single board member was in favor of a dog park. There was just a lot of concerns about what size we need to start with.”
The dog park is expected to have a similar feel to the one that was built in Urbana. Urbana’s dog park has caused no problems for residents living near it, according to Urbana Park District program manager Judy Miller.
Sample said he hopes neighbors of Coady Park who have opposed the dog park proposal can begin to support it once they see it will not be a problem.
“If the neighbors in the area give it an opportunity, I think they’ll figure out it’s not as bad as what some of them fear,” Sample said.
Added Sample: “We’ve talked about, down the road, planting trees to the north side of the (dog park’s) fence to kind of block off the residential area.”
Members of the dog park committee have offered to monitor and maintain the dog park and keep it clean. The group is also paying for construction of the facility. The next step is to get cost estimates for the fence.
“We’re going to get the fence installed, then water (system) and possibly some agility equipment — ramps or weaving sticks or whatever,” Sample said.
Russell said the dog park committee may be willing to share the dog park’s water system so that it can also be accessed for a proposed community garden at Coady Park.
Sample said the community garden likely will be “the next thing that we’ll tackle.”
“We’ve got to figure out if that’s something that we can make work for them, as well,” Sample said. “We’re trying to improve the whole community, so it’s definitely nice to have community involvement. ... We’re definitely getting some good community involvement going on around here.”
Playground coming, as well
Coady Park in the near future is also expected to get a new playground. The park has been without a playground for about four years.
Sample said the park board has already received the equipment for the playground, which will be located between an area of trees in front of the Civic Center and Paxton Community Nursery School.
“Now that we’ve finalized the location for it, we can start planning for the installation,” Sample said. “It’ll be a nice location. There’s not a lot of use that we had for that land that we could come up with, so the playground made perfect sense.”
Before it was removed, the old playground had been behind the swimming pool.
“That was removed a few years back due to safety concerns regarding the age of the playground,” Sample said. “It’d be really nice to have a playground back here.”
The park board will use volunteers to build the new playground. The board has tentatively scheduled a “community build” for the playground for April 20.
“It will save us a lot of money for installation, so we will be looking for volunteers to help with that,” Sample said. “You don’t have to be handy to be able to do that. ... All the helping hands we can get are going to be appreciated, so we’re definitely going to be looking for volunteers for that.”
The park board is also looking into a summer wiffleball league.
“Another community member has approached us about starting a wiffleball league,” Sample said. “(Recreation Director) Neal (McKenry is) going to get some more information on that and bring it back to next month’s meeting, but it’s definitely something we’re open to giving a try and seeing if we can make it work.
“It sounds like it could be fun. We’ll get more information on that next month and see if it’s something we’re going to proceed with or not.”