Artificial turf moves from stadium to play lot

Brightly-colored, brand-new playground equipment and kelly green “grass” at a Mt. Greenwood park greeted 75 youngsters on their first day of summer camp last week.

Located at 10714 S. Sawyer Avenue, McKiernan Playground Park is the first of Chicago’s 518 play lots to have artificial turf.  A donation by Team Reil, a company based in Union that specializes in recreation products, made the renovation possible.

The Park District already uses artificial turf for several of its sporting fields, but, up until now, all of its playgrounds have been made of asphalt, wood chips or rubber surfacing.

Team Reil’s president, John Cederlund, first proposed the idea of installing turf in Chicago playgrounds in October 2006 when he approached the Park District.

Ald. Virginia Rugai (D-19) heard about the offer and secured $75,000 in city funds for McKiernan Park. According to the Chicago Park District’s website, the last major renovation for McKiernan Park happened in 1988 when a new soft surface playground was installed.

The alderman’s office did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Cederlund says the only problem Rugai foresaw was that the equipment was old. So Team Reil picked up the costs, paying approximately $31,000 for new equipment and $28,000 for the supply and installation of the turf, he says.

“The Chicago Park District is a big customer,” Cederlund says. And donating, “is the best way to showcase a product.”

Team Reil began construction in May and took about seven weeks to complete the job.

“Reusable parts [of the old playground equipment] were salvaged for future repairs to other playgrounds... [and]  the obsolete components were disposed of," says Zvezdana Kubat, assistant press secretary for the Park District.

Cederlund, who is 57, says he remembers playing on real grass while he was a young boy.  Artificial turf provides a similar surface to sod, but has some advantages, he says.

“You’re not going to get hurt, there’s not much upkeep, and no matter what you put down on it, it always looks good,” he says.

The turf is covered under warranty for eight years.

Just two days before the McKiernan Park’s summer programs began, the Park District unveiled the new play lot at a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

“At least 200 people were there,” Cederlund says.  “I’ve been to other openings where there are maybe 20. I never saw an opening like it.”

“It tickled our hearts that that many people cared,” he says.

There aren’t definite plans for artificial turf to be installed elsewhere, although Kubat calls the McKiernan playground a pilot project.

“We'll see how it performs and will do more if it works out well," Kubat says.

Team Reil has made similar donations in the past, such as building a play lot and providing playground equipment in Houston for 66 families that were relocated there due to Hurricane Katrina.

“You can work all day, but there are some things that make you happier than others,” says Cederlund.