By Devin Rose
The Park District of Oak Park Board of Commissioners decided last week they will stop exploring the possibility of a shared administrative facility with District 97 on the parking lot of Village Hall.
A statement sent Friday from the park district indicated that the decision to withdraw their involvement came after the board thoroughly studied and discussed the potential benefits and challenges of the proposal. The project would have relocated each entity's maintenance staff and put their current administration buildings at 218 Madison St. and 970 Madison St. back on the market.
Officials held two public meetings about the proposal, where residents voiced opposition to the project. People were concerned that it would create more traffic in an already busy area and take away parking that is inadequate now. Some said it was foolish to put two buildings up for sale in a bad market.
The park district always places a high priority on community input, said its executive director, Jan Arnold, and based on that and their assessment so far of how much underground parking might cost, "it would be a high price to pay."
The two entities estimated the project would cost $6-10 million, and Arnold said she could not speculate on how much more it might cost taking parking into account. Each group has money set aside for maintenance at their facilities that they said could go toward the project, as well as scheduled reimbursements to D97 from the Madison Street TIF.
The park district is still open to looking at collaboration opportunities with D97, whether that means another shared facility at a different location or through field sharing, Arnold said.
"While this proposed project isn't the right fit for us now, the park district is always interested in exploring opportunities that could benefit village residents with improved services and taxpayer savings," park board President Christine Graves said in the statement.
D97 officials said in a separate statement also sent Friday that they were surprised by the park district's decision to forego the project, especially with a village financial analysis still pending. That analysis was expected to be completed by the end of the month.
The statement went on to say that D97 respects the decision, but providing their administration with an improved, functional facility "remains a top priority." The Facilities Advisory Committee will continue to be involved in these efforts so they can join forces with other local governing bodies to identify a viable solution, the statement said.