By Terry Dean
Roughly 50 people attended the joint meeting Dec. 14 hosted by District 97 and Village of Oak Park trustees, primarily to oppose building any kind of school district headquarters on the Village Hall parking lot.
The Saturday morning public meeting at Village Hall, 123 Madison, lastly roughly 2 hours, including about an hour of public comments. Village Hall neighbors have opposed the idea of a D97 headquarters built in their neighborhood on the parking lot.
D97 officials Saturday said the Village Hall option was one of several options they're considering for a new headquarters.
Neighbors, however, said their area is already too congested parking-wise. They also oppose building an underground parking structure as part of the proposed plan. Aside from Village Hall, they argue that the area is a residential neighborhood and not a "government campus."
D97 officials said the parking lot option was first floated in 2006 as part of the Madison Street plan to revitalize that stretch of land -- a "civic campus" was noted in the plan to bring Oak Park municipalities together in one area.
Bob Spatz, president of the D97 school board, stressed that the parking lot idea did not generate from the school district. Spatz, though, added that D97 has been open to that idea but has never finalized a decision on it.
D97 and village trustees also discussed the Madison TIF and its potential implications on a D97 headquarters.
Village CFO Craig Lesner said there's currently $7.5 million in the TIF with just under a million representing D97's portion. The other discussions Saturday surrounding the TIF involved its potential extension beyond its 2018 expiration. Extending the TIF could generate more development on Madison Street, Lesner explained.
Village trustees did not decide on a TIF extension at Saturday's joint meeting. They did agree to continue talks about that possibility starting in January. They also agreed by that time to finalize a decision concerning paying past due Madison TIF monies to D97 and other Oak Park taxing bodies. The taxing bodies are due surplus payments from fiscal years 2011 and 2012.
As for other locations other than parking lot, Spatz said the district has an offer from the developers of the Madison-Highlands project for D97 to be a tenant there. Spatz said the cost to build space there is around $5 to $6 million, and that the district is seriously considering that option. 101 Madison is also still on the table, Spatz said. That building, which needs renovating, also carries a large tax bill of more than $100,000 that would come off the tax roll if D97 moves there, Spatz noted.
After the meeting, neighbor Chris Williams remained skeptical of the parking lot option, saying that an underground parking structure would cost more than the new building itself. Williams, who believes D97 is trying to deliberate in good faith, is open to D97 relocating along Madison in an existing vacant space, but not behind Village Hall.
Wednesday Journal will have more coverage of the joint meeting online and in next week's paper.
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