Support, some concerns, voiced for Obama Library at Washington Park meeting

Washington Park Advisory Council President Cecilia Butler speaks during the marathon meeting about the Obama Presidential Library at the Washington Park Fieldhouse, 5531 S. Martin Luther King Dr., Tuesday. -Marc Monaghan
Washington Park Advisory Council President Cecilia Butler speaks during the marathon meeting about the Obama Presidential Library at the Washington Park Fieldhouse, 5531 S. Martin Luther King Dr., Tuesday.

-Marc Monaghan

By LINDSAY WELBERS
Staff Writer

So many people filled the Washington Park fieldhouse Wednesday afternoon that park district officials turned people away briefly before opening up more overflow rooms.

Chicago Park District board members gave the public a second opportunity to discuss potentially placing the Obama Presidential Library inside Washington Park.

The first hearing drew more than 1,000 residents speaking largely in favor of using the park as a home for the library.

Residents expressed concern that not offering the park as usable land would give the Obamas reason not to locate their library in the Washington Park community. Other residents wanted the University of Chicago, the organization bidding to host the library, to sign a community benefits agreement with the neighborhood, assuring that the current residents’ interests are looked out for.

It would be a slap in the face if any other city other than the City of Chicago receives this endorsement, said Torry Barrett, director of the KLEO Community Life Center. He wanted to let Obama know that “now is the time we need him to support this community 100 percent.”

Jitu Brown, from the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, stood up to say that regardless of what happens with the library, Dyett High School needs to be invested in as an open enrollment neighborhood school.

We are very concerned that Dyett will become a casualty in this effort,” Brown said.

Fran Vandervoort, who serves on the board of the Washington Park Conservancy, warned that repurposing Washington Park’s western edge from 51 to 55th streets could endanger the arboretum there. Some trees, she said, were growing during George Washington’s presidency.

Of the dozens of people that spoke to the park district board members, many attendees chanted the same refrain of “bring it on home,” in reference to a campaign the U. of C. started to rally public support for the campaign.

Others chanted that Frederick Law Olmstead advised to “make no little plans.” Olmstead also is the landscape architect who designed Washington Park.

Woodlawn resident Melanie Moore said that in its current state Washington Park is eligible to become a national landmark.

Bring it on home, but not in the park,” Moore said.

l.welbers@hpherald.com