By Dan Haley
By Dec. 1, the three local government bodies — parks, elementary schools and village — contemplating a grand sharing of office space on Madison Street are due back with a fully-thought-out proposal on just why they want to spend $6-10 million to plant a new shared headquarters on the clotted village hall parking lot on Madison Street.
Regular readers might recall that I think this is the dumbest idea since the notion of capping the Ike from one end of town to the other was first floated. Same concern: It isn't all about us. Just because Oak Park is so-so special, we don't get everything we want and dream. If the past few years have taught us anything, it is that resources actually are limited and we ought to start acting like it.
So here are a few questions I'd like to see thoroughly answered by the schools, parks and village before they vote for the bloat of this crazy notion. And don't believe they won't.
Exactly how many employees are you building a headquarters for? The numbers we've reported are 15 for the parks, 40 for the schools. Round it up to 60, allow for future growth, though it's hard to imagine, but give us the precise number.
How big a building are you planning? This number just keeps floating by in the ether. Square footage ranges, so far, from 20,000 to 30,000 feet. That is a heck of a range. At 20,000 feet and 60 staffers, that would be 333 square feet per employee. It would be 500 square feet per fanny at 30,000 feet. Google about and you will find those numbers on the high side even allowing for common areas and, yes, maybe a government building needs more meeting rooms. But isn't attaching to village hall in part to allow sharing of the village's meeting spaces? In any case, all trends on space per employee point to shrinking spaces with some open space concepts now under 200 square feet for an actual staffer. And sure, superintendents and executive directors get more space.
What happens to the current park and school headquarters? They would be sold to meet the mythical demand for space on the largely empty Madison Street. But precisely what do competent real estate appraisals say each building would be worth? Demolished or repurposed?
What are the appraisals looking like on the best comparable available? That would be the old Volvo dealership on Madison which the village bought in 2004 for $1.5 million. Since the village hired David King and Associates to sell it off a year ago, I'd assume they've had it appraised. What's the current value? After a year on the market how many serious offers have there been?
Where's the parking solution? The village hall site is already full with visitors spilling onto side streets in a residential neighborhood. Are planners proposing underground parking? That's crazy expensive. How much per space? How many spaces?
Where's the traffic study? The intersection of Madison and Taylor is already difficult with Taylor jogging, four lanes of traffic on Madison and intense drive-thru traffic at the McDonald's.
Who's paying? One theory to pay for this shrine to intergovernmental unity is TIF dollars owed D97 from the Madison Street TIF. By any definition, these are locally generated property tax dollars and don't try to kid us on that score. If D97 gains revenues from the TIF, does state school aid go down? Prove that. What are the ways around this? Can you spend the TIF dollars on other essential capital projects in the schools? Or does it really have to stay on Madison Street. Prove that.
Sharing space makes all kinds of sense. Short of convincing answers to these questions, however, this version of sharing makes no sense.