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November 11, 2014

Jackson Park in talks about Obama Library

The University of Chicago and the Chicago Park District will hold a joint meeting in January to discuss the viability of Jackson Park as a site for the Obama presidential library, according to Louise McCurry, president of the Jackson Park Advisory Committee (JPAC). McCurry spoke on the subject at a regular JPAC meeting on Monday night, where the committee also discussed a forthcoming habitat restoration project.

“I was contacted by [the University’s Senior Associate Vice President for Community Engagement] Sonya Malunda. She said that she wanted to come out, along with the Park District, to assess the possibility of construction. If the library were to be built in Jackson Park, it would be at approximately East 63rd Street and South Stony Island [Avenue],” McCurry said.

Whether Jackson Park is chosen as the site for the Obama library also depends on the Barack Obama Foundation (BOF) selecting the University of Chicago as the host for the library. The University is one of four institutions vying to host it, and the BOF will announce the winning bid in 2015. The Maroon previously reported that a site near the Museum of Science and Industry, on the northern boundary of the park, was one location the University was interested in for the library.

For Jackson Park, the Obama library is a possibility—but an $8.1-million habitat restoration project is a certainty, and its progress was the other main agenda item of the JPAC meeting.

JPAC announced the restoration project, which involves landscaping the park’s shoreline, planting over 1000 trees, and creating 12 new wildlife ponds, in August. Lauren Umek, the project manager for the Chicago Park District, said that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Applied Ecological Services, a Chicago-based contractor, will perform the restoration work and may begin as soon as December.

McCurry said that JPAC has taken precautions to ensure that the project does not result in the accidental destruction of wildlife, and is confident in the competence of the groups undertaking the work.

“The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will be a little bit blindsided on what to preserve, so we put red flags on over 250 oak saplings as an indicator that they should be protected,” McCurry said.

Umek also noted that one area in the southeastern section of the park will not be included in the restoration project due to its previous uses.

“The area where the prairie grass is now—that was an old Nike nuclear missile site [from 1955 to 1971], and then it was a shooting range. There’s a lot of residue, and therefore we can’t touch it,” Umek said.

JPAC member Norm Bell suggested that the field has an air of mystery that the committee may not want to investigate. “On top, it is tallgrass prairie. Whatever’s down there, we don’t know,” Bell said.

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