By Terry Dean
District 97 and Village of Oak Park will host a joint public meeting next month to discuss D97's interest in building a new administration building on Oak Park Village Hall land.
D97 and the village have been in talks about building a new school district headquarters on land presently occupied by the village hall parking lot ever since the Park District of Oak Park backed out of a shared-building proposal with D97 in November 2012. The village hall parking lot was the desired site in that proposal.
The two taxing bodies are eying either Saturday, Dec. 7 or Saturday, Dec. 14 for the public meeting, which will include both boards. The two sides have set a Jan. 15, 2014 deadline to make a decision about moving forward on the project.
"We think that this roughly 75-day period will provide an important opportunity for the staffs of the schools and the village to be able to put together some comprehensive information so the two elected bodies can look at that, discuss it and interact with the community," said Oak Park Village Manager Cara Pavlicek.
Pavlicek made the formal request to D97 at the school district's Nov. 5 regular meeting. A small "working group" of D97 and village officials met Nov. 1, to hash out details about the project.
D97 board member Denise Sacks and school board President Bob Spatz are among that group, along with Village President Anan Abu-Taleb, Pavlicek and Oak Park Trustee Bob Tucker. The village's attorney was also part of the group.
The village and D97 plan to discuss a number of issues related to the administration building, Pavlicek said, including construction impacts to neighbors. The two sides also plan to talk about potential "service partnerships" between D97 and the village, Pavlicek said.
Both D97's and the village's space needs would be discussed, she said.
Oak Park police headquarters is located in the village hall basement, including a section underneath the parking lot. An administration building on the parking lot would impact the police space, Pavlicek noted.
The Madison TIF District will also be discussed at the December meeting, Pavlicek said.
D97 is due a scheduled TIF payment on Nov. 15, but the village wants to defer that payment until after Jan. 15, Pavlicek said, so both sides can discuss broader issues around the Madison TIF.
"I think beyond the physical issues, we want to ensure that staff can put together information to give you a long-term look at the financial impacts of various alternatives to the Madison TIF and what that does to the property tax levies of all the taxing bodies beyond the village and elementary school district," Pavlicek said.
Still, the idea of building on the parking lot rankles some neighbors in that area.
Residents Rick Boultinghouse and Amy Williams object to the plan. Opponents to the proposed project have established an anti-D97 building Facebook page and "say no" petition (www.facebook.com/NOD97BLDGHERE; www.tinyurl.com/NOD97BLDG).
Speaking at the D97 meeting last Tuesday, Williams and Boultinghouse both accused D97 of moving forward with the plan without getting community input.
"We are 1,000-percent against this project, and we will do everything in our power to let the rest of Oak Park know about it, and mobilizing whatever forces we need to oppose this," Williams said.
The two neighbors also accused D97 of "deception," saying that administration building plan is in the works despite repeated denials by district officials.
Speaking to Wednesday Journal on Wednesday, Spatz reiterated that D97 and village have only had "conceptual" discussions about the project.
"There are no architectural plans or drawings, but we have talked about some general ideas," Spatz said.
He added that the district's new architectural firm, STR Partners, has not been directed to draft any plans for new headquarters. This is in response to a claim made by neighbors that the firm is or has been working on the project.
Spatz said there's some misunderstanding among neighbors about what STR is doing. The firm, which was hired last summer, is currently doing a building capacity study for the schools, Spatz said, as well as an accessibility study at the buildings. STR is also exploring air-conditioning options for the schools.
Concerning the existing administration building at 970 Madison St., Spatz said STR is looking into how much it would cost to renovate that building.