CHICAGO (CBS) — Time and time again the Morning Insiders found filthy conditions at Harding Park on the West Side. By late summer, the park finally got a makeover.
Why did it take so long to clean it up? CBS 2’s Lauren Victory took that question to someone near the top of the Chicago Park District.
Three times since April, the Morning Insiders have exposed filthy conditions at Harding Park: empty alcohol containers, a razor, and plastic baggies and discarded needles – likely from drug users – among the dangerous trash left behind while kids play.
April Cortes was afraid for her 2-year-old son, Jose, after he found one of those baggies while playing at the park.
“I got scared because I though he had put it in his mouth,” she said. “It was a dope bag.”
The Chicago Park District said it cleans the playground daily, but CBS 2’s repeated spot checks and Park District records seem to indicate that’s not the case.
After CBS 2 asked questions for the most recent story last month, there has been a dramatic improvement.
New signs have been installed warning that alcoholic beverages are not allowed in the park and that there are increased penalties for gang recruitment activity and drug use or sales on park property.
The park also has been much cleaner with far less trash. Park District task sheets show more frequent – and longer – visits by cleanup crews.
The day of CBS 2’s latest report on the conditions at Harding Park, crews stayed 2 ½ hours. They also were there more than an hour each of the next two days.
Why the change for the better? Four times the Chicago Park District declined to provide an interview with an executive.
After informing the Park District that CBS 2 would be at the Chicago Park District Board meeting last week, the district made director of cultural and natural resources Cathy Breitenbach available.
“As we ramp up to the summer, we will be there seven days a week,” she said.
What about Park District task sheets that appeared to contradict that claim showing crews didn’t visit daily, and when they did, didn’t stay long – sometimes only six minutes?
“It surprises me a little bit. I mean, I know our staff are visiting every day. It’s possible a day was missed,” she said.
After CBS 2 pointed out a big change in the frequency and duration of cleanup visits following Lauren Victory’s latest report on the conditions at Harding Park, Breitenbach was at a loss for words to explain why.
“I’m not sure. I can’t really answer that. We continue to clean the park every day. We do continue to struggle with the same issues,” she said.
Breitenbach said to her knowledge there was no increased effort to clean Harding Park in response to CBS 2’s reporting.
“Not that I’m aware of,” she said.
What about later this year? Cleaning crews wind down their efforts in fall and winter. Will Harding Park take a hit again? CBS 2 will keep checking.