The beloved Kid’s Castle in Deerpath Park in Vernon Hills will be torn down next month. Little Lake County hosted a great play date at the castle last month, but in case you missed it, time is running out to play on this unusual playground. After years of wear and tear, as well as changes in playground safety and accessibility requirements, the castle is due to be replaced. But here is the great news, it’s going to be replaced by a fresh, new “Kid’s Castle” next year, continuing the theme and the unique collaboration between the Vernon Hills Park District and the Vernon Hills community that built this playground in the first place.
To find out more about this project, we spoke with Amy Lamberti, the lead community member, who is helping park district officials work with the community in the redesign, demolition, fundraising, and rebuilding of the park.
Tell us a little about yourself and how you got involved in this project:
I was fortunate to purchase our family home in the Deerpath subdivision (of Vernon Hills, where the castle is located) eight years ago. We have been raising our two children in this great community with many wonderful neighbors and friends. During the past eight years I’ve been supportive to our community and always willing to volunteer time and effort to making it the wonderful city it is.
I got involved with the project when I was asked by the park district board to be the community leader. Being that Castle Park is the closest park to our home, I have a tremendous love for the park. If we are going to a park, many times this is where we go on a weekly (sometimes nightly) basis. You would consider this our neighborhood park.
We also have many children who live here in this neighborhood. If you drive down our road you’ll see children outside on bikes, running through the yards and being “children playing outside!” Neighbors who are original owners from [more than] 30 years ago tell us how much they enjoy watching our children play outside. That being said, they knew that this project would be a great fit for me because of the love I have for this neighborhood.
Please share a brief history of the Kids Castle in Vernon Hills.
Historically the park was built in 1997 when some community members of the Deerpath Subdivision approached the park district for blessing to use the land as a park location. It was agreed upon. During their development of the original Kids Castle, community members spent many weeks raising money, gathering materials, organizing child care, coordinating food and donating time and money to building what currently is known as Kids Castle. But through the 18 years it has become unaccessible for children in wheelchairs and needing to be replaced with current playground safety requirements.
Now, share the future vision for Kids Castle.
Kids Castle playground will remain a themed park. The vision for the park is one of inclusion. Students of all abilities can play, socialize and dream together with the new design. It will foster acceptance, friendship and understanding through play. Accessibility to nearly every feature is a key element to the new design. There will be safety surfacing for mobility devices, ground-level play elements, quiet, cozy escape zones, social gathering zones, sliding, climbing and spinning. We have also build age appropriate areas into the new design. There will be double wide ramps included to allow for wheelchairs to enter the castle zone.
How can the community help?
There are three ways for the community to offer support.
- Dedicate time on October 17 and 24, 2015 to support the demolition. We have zones that are set up for people to physically tear down what currently is in place. Sign up here.
- Purchase a brick. The park district is running a brick paver sale. With the option of three sizes, the money raised for the bricks purchased will go back into the park features.
- If you know of someone or a company willing to be a partner sponsor we have three levels of donation.
-Corporate logo on a play apparatus – donation of $25,000
-Corporate name on a decorative stone at the entrance – donation of $10,000
-Corporate name on the directional signs which will be in the parking lot – donation of $5,000
What’s the motivation behind involving community volunteers?
We truly want the community to have the time and labor into building the park. With the donation of their time and talent comes an appreciation for the property. Having the community involved has also helped the park district to design and build it to meet the community’s needs. [Because] it is a community effort, the city of Vernon Hills is also financially supporting the project.
Have kids helped and are there more opportunities for kids to get involved?
It began with the local children “shopping” in the playground catalogs. We had many children in the area circle what they’d love to see in the new Kids Castle. From there we had local children at park district board meetings to share their desires and dreams for the park. They analyzed the renderings and provided feedback of what they liked and didn’t like. From there the architects and designers made tweaks to fit the kids’ requests. We have also had children involved at the city hall meetings presenting their appreciation for the park district’s process of listening to their needs for the park. Each meeting I’ve attended as the community leader, I’ve brought neighborhood kids along. It’s been a true community project.
What do you need most from the community?
The support for the project can be coming out to tear down on October 17 and 24th and rebuilding again in April of 2016. On-site volunteers need to be at least 15 years of age. The financial support of purchasing bricks or donating resources is greatly appreciated. We are working on building a relationship with some restaurants to donate food items for the day of the teardown and rebuild. We’ll take any support we can get from food to monetary donations to time and effort.
When will the playground be complete, and will there be a grand opening celebration?
The playground will be built in April 2016 and the celebration of the grand opening is to be for May 2016. The exact time and date are TBD.
To volunteer at the demolition on October 17 & 24 (ages 15 and over) sign up here.
To order a brick, register with the Vernon Hills Park District.