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By Devin Rose
The sale of 25 Lake St., a former Aldi grocery store, to the Park District of Oak Park closed last week, leaving the park board to debate the building's future next month.
The board will discuss whether it's better to reduce overcrowding at the park district headquarters at 218 Madison St. by removing the gymnastics program or the building and grounds department. One of those programs will wind up in the long vacant Aldi store, said park district Executive Director Gary Balling.
The popular gymnastics program serves about 1,400 students each season. In July, when the Park District Board of Commissioners unanimously approved a contract for the purchase of the building, Balling said there were 162 people on the waitlist for gymnastics.
The current interior of 25 Lake St. is 10,800 square feet, Balling said. At 218 Madison, the gymnastics program uses 6,682 square feet while buildings and grounds uses 6,369 square feet.
The park district has spent several years looking for a solution to the cramped gymnastics space. The district is proud to point out that the gymnastics program is regularly profitable and could be more successful with added space. Beginning in 2002 the district undertook an infrastructure study. In 2006, they identified the amount of space needed, said Balling and Diane Stanke, manager of communications for the park district.
The district started looking at the 25 Lake St. property in February. It offered off-street parking, an affordable price and proximity to Stevenson Park, Balling said.
A new space for gymnastics could end the waiting list. More space for building and grounds would end the practice of having park district equipment stashed throughout the community. There is currently limited outside storage, Stanke said.
The district will determine the best use for the property, which it purchased for $880,000 — $100,000 less than what it expected to pay owing to possible soil contamination issues.
The park district board will meet as a Committee as a Whole on Nov. 3 at 7:30 p.m. at 218 Madison St. to discuss options.