By Devin Rose
Representatives from the Park District of Oak Park and District 97 schools had some additional details about their proposed shared administrative facility Saturday, but residents at the second community forum on the proposal continued to oppose it moving forward.
The difficulty of finding parking on surrounding streets as well as the inability to sell the two current administration buildings in a bad market were the concerns most frequently mentioned at the forum, held Saturday morning at Beye School. The event drew about 30 people.
Officials from the two districts said the proposed facility on the parking lot of village hall would offer about 16,000 square feet, according to a Nov. 1 report from the village. That would give each of the 53 employees about 301 square feet of space. Currently, both entities occupy about 27,064 square feet of space, or 510 square feet per employee. The building could be a maximum of 30 feet high, which Park District Executive Director Jan Arnold said is about two-and-a-half stories.
Arnold added that the extra half story could be underneath, an option that has been discussed to accommodate parking. Another option is to re-configure the existing lot and explore on-street possibilities. Park Board President Christine Graves and D97 school board President Peter Barber presented traffic volume figures on the 500 block of South Lombard Avenue from the village to show that cars per day decreased from 5,902 in 1998 to 3,129 in 2012. Graves said no money had been spent so far on a more formal traffic study, but that would be part of the next phase if the village board OKs the decision next month for the facility to be built on their land.
But neighbors in the area said they think the streets have gotten busier, endangering their children and leaving nowhere to park. Amy Williams, who lives in the 600 block of South Lombard Avenue, said it "feels like this is being shoved down our throats," and "no one who lives in this neighborhood wants it."
A couple of speakers said they would support underground parking and agreed that a street parking solution was off-putting. One woman said the benefits of collaboration the two bodies have said the facility will encourage is "way overstated" because the Internet makes collaboration possible around the world.
Joan Filbin, a past president of the Oak Park Board of Realtors, said she was "totally opposed" to the expensive project that would have little benefit to the neighbors. She pointed out that this was the worst market she's seen in more than 40 years in real estate, and it was wishful thinking to try to sell these buildings in such a market. Filbin's comments drew applause.
Under the proposal, the two taxing bodies would each sell their current administration buildings at 218 Madison St. and 970 Madison St., putting them back on the tax rolls. D97's maintenance staff would move to the village's public works building at Lombard Avenue and South Boulevard. The park district's maintenance staff would move into D97's warehouse building at 541 Madison St.
The project is expected to cost $6-10 million at this point. The entities have said it could be funded with money set aside for deferred maintenance at both of the current facilities as well as scheduled reimbursement payments to D97 from the Madison Street TIF.
Graves and Barber emphasized that the December deadline was only for the village to approve or reject building on its land. If the village says yes, all three boards still need to vote on the matter before they can issue requests for proposals from architects and engineers. A proposed timeline in the village report said the new building could be completed by Aug. 2015.
Barber said the meeting Dec. 1 — or likely after that date — will be open to the public. He said it also "makes sense" to have another public forum.
For information about, or to comment on, the proposal for the facility, visit www.op97.org/adminfacility.
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