D97 backtracks from Village Hall headquarters site

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By Terry Dean

Staff reporter

In an about-face, Oak Park Elementary School District 97 is backing away from the idea of building a new headquarters on the parking lot at Oak Park Village Hall.

Talks between the two taxing bodies about that plan have hit a major snag, with D97 looking for the village to state publicly, and by Jan. 14, whether it thinks a headquarters on its property is worth exploring.

In a letter sent to the village on Wednesday, D97 officials say they plan to take the village hall site off the table by Jan. 14, unless the village decides what it wants to do with that plan.

"If we decide to further explore the possibility of constructing a new building behind village hall, we will do so only with clear direction and support from our village colleagues," according to the letter.

The D97 and village of Oak Park boards met publicly Dec. 14, to discuss the headquarters option, as well as the future of Madison Street TIF, which has direct ties to a potential D97 headquarters building on the parking lot.

A potential deal struck could swap the parking lot land in exchange for money owed to D97 from the Madison TIF. That idea was raised and briefly discussed at the Dec. 14, meeting, stemming from a question raised by village Trustee Collette Lueck. But nothing was decided on that idea, nor did the two sides agree or finalize any decision on whether to continue pursuing the parking lot option.

According to its letter to the village, D97's interest in the parking lot site is two-fold: to participate in the 2006 Madison Street plan, which calls for a "civic campus" utilizing the parking lot space; and to help spur economic development on Madison Street through the sale of D97's current headquarters at 970 Madison St.

D97 is looking for answers to those two points by Jan. 14; otherwise it will explore other potential sites.

"During the village president's opening statement and the village board's questions during the joint board meeting, there was a noticeable lack of affirmation about either of these key pieces of information," the statement read.

The letter goes on to state that the parking lot site will be dropped on Jan. 14 — the school board's next scheduled meeting date — unless D97 "receives public communication from the village indicating reasons why the administration offices behind village hall is in the community's best interest."

D97 spokesman Chris Jasculca says the school district has worked with the village on the proposal in the belief that it would advance the Madison Street Plan and spur economic growth on that thoroughfare.

"We have arrived, however, at an important crossroads in the process where we must make a decision about the future of our administration building. That is why we have asked the Village board to share its thoughts and ideas regarding this option by Jan. 14, 2014," Jasculca said. "If we decide to no longer pursue this option, we will still need to find suitable office space."

Speaking to Wednesday Journal late Friday, Village President Anan Abu-Taleb stressed the importance of the village and D97 working together to find a solution on where to locate the proposed administration building.

"I can tell you for a fact that I respect everyone on the D97 board and they work hard," he said. "But I can tell you, speaking for myself, I don't like to put myself in a position to make a decision I haven't fully studied."

He noted that it "wouldn't be prudent for us as leaders to walk away from an option that may be the best option in the long-run."

The village president would not speculate whether trustees would have an answer to the question following by the January board meeting.

D97 board weighs in

At the school board's Dec. 17 regular meeting, board members discussed the possibility of moving away from village hall parking lot site.

"We're just trying to get clear statement [from the village]," said D97 board President Bob Spatz. "We need them to affirm that a civic campus is still a goal."

Spatz noted that the Madison Street Plan was approved by a prior village board, and that current trustees, including the new village president, might not be aware of its details.

Spatz and other board members said they're looking for the village to state whether they think it's beneficial to the community to build their headquarters behind village hall. At the Dec. 14, joint meeting, officials from both sides noted that D97 could use village hall council chamber for its regular meetings, among other potential shared services.

But Spatz added that the Dec. 14, joint meeting was too short — it lasted roughly two hours — to really get a sense of what the village's interest is. The Saturday session included about an hour or public comments and mostly clarifying questions asked by trustees about the proposed plan.

"The meeting was so abbreviated last Saturday that we didn't get a chance to basically ask them directly: 'Are you interested in doing this?'" Spatz said.

Board member Graham Brisben noted that a benefit to both taxing bodies would be providing D97 with land in exchange for required payments to the school district from the Madison TIF. Such a deal, he noted, would allow money to remain in the TIF to be used for developments on Madison Street.

"That's how something like that — behind village hall — constitutes improvements on Madison," Brisben said. "It preserves more cash in the TIF. But we have to decide that we're OK with accepting that land value equal to cash."

Spatz said that scenario is among the potential options under consideration with the village.

But in the end, Spatz said if the village wants to make a proposal to D97, the district is willing to listen.

"And if they're not willing to make a proposal, then we're done," Spatz added.

D97 Superintendent Albert Roberts added that the parking lot site has not been driven by D97, but has been a joint idea discussed between the two taxing bodies.

"This has been a joint conversation. If there's interest on their side, they need to say it. And if there's not, they need to say it," Roberts said.

The district, he added, is looking for feedback from the village before it decides what it wants to do concerning the parking lot site.

"We have other options; we are looking at other options," Roberts said. "We need to hear from them."

The board, however, stressed that a decision by the village doesn't mean the parking lot idea is a done deal. D97 could still opt for another site, they said. But board members stressed that they want to work collaboratively with the Village in whatever decision is reached. Some members, though, said they wouldn't back the parking lot plan even if it came up for a board vote. 

Tim Inklebarger contrubuted to this story

CONTACT: tdean@wjinc.com

Reader Comments

24 Comments - Add Your Comment

Comment Policy

dystOPia from OP  

Posted: December 26th, 2013 1:19 PM

After being aware of the admin bldg's condition, why did D97 take $2.37M from the village for the bldg in 2007, and then only 6 years later, declare it beyond repair and a "replacement candidate"? As per the leaseback agreement, D97 is solely responsible to maintain and & upkeep the building, "necessary to preserve, protect and safeguard the Real Estate so that the same will continue to adequately serve the uses for which the same is intended", including the HVAC system and interior finishes.

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: December 26th, 2013 10:22 AM

D97: Once you sell your building, then you can think about moving somewhere else. Until then, until you have an actual buyer for that property, any appraisal is meaningless and should not be used to make any concrete plans.

dystOPia from OP  

Posted: December 26th, 2013 9:43 AM

The 2006 Madison St. Master Plan doesn't state civic campus as a "goal",but only as a "consideration", one of 34 others (p.166). Also, in a 2007 leaseback, the Village purchased the admin building from D97 for the appraised cost of $2.37M. D97 now claims the resale value is only $1.2M, suggesting D97 didn't maintain the bldg. By leaving the existing admin bldg, it would appear D97 is adding to the existing blight of the Madison St. TIF, which is contrary to the goal of the TIF funding it seeks.

Jennifer from Oak Park   

Posted: December 23rd, 2013 4:37 PM

If Bob Spatz isn't sure what the people of the village want, then clearly he was not listening to EVERY SINGLE PERSON WHO GOT UP TO SPEAK. Whatever.

OPDad  

Posted: December 23rd, 2013 8:57 AM

The Village campus item seems to be a red herring whereby the issue of whether D97 needs a new building at all is reframed as whether D97 needs a building on the same campus as the rest of the Village buildings. No new building is required.

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: December 22nd, 2013 8:55 PM

@Amy, I thought your public comment was good. Developed ideas, well-chosen words, and respectfully delivered. I know it's uncomfortable for many to speak in public,. So thank you for do so.

Amy Williams  

Posted: December 22nd, 2013 5:49 PM

Paddy Boy, I love it... My grandpa was a USN decoder in WWII but he was as thrifty as they come!

Paddy Boy  

Posted: December 22nd, 2013 3:45 PM

My Dear Amy and Linus, Careful with the name callin' - Paddy Boy himself served in the USN for several years. Back in the day we used to say that a drunkin' sailor was spendin' money like a progressive Oak Park Administrator.

Veronica from Oak Park  

Posted: December 22nd, 2013 9:38 AM

Why does D97 new a new building? For once let's try to help out the tax payers like D200 is doing.

Amy Williams  

Posted: December 22nd, 2013 9:24 AM

@Linus, I love your drunken sailors comment - I almost used that in my speech at the forum but took it out bc I thought someone would be offended - but yeah, less drunken sailors spending and more Aldi-esque spending like most of us have to do anyway! If you haven't already signed the petition against this mess, pls consider signing at http://www.change.org/petitions/no-district-97-building-here

Brendan  

Posted: December 22nd, 2013 8:27 AM

The parking lot is on Lombard, not Madison. No Madison TIF monies should even be considered for this project.

Linus  

Posted: December 22nd, 2013 6:32 AM

I voted "no" on the first referendum which was an unpopular choice at the time. Remember the vocal fellow who got ostracized for being publicly opposed? I hear he's left town. D97/Oak Park must be prudent in their spending, our economy dictates it. My company has already told us our wages are frozen next year. I will not, cannot, support the current "spend like drunken sailors" policy. My apologies if I've offended any drunken sailors.

Mike Lennox from Oak Park  

Posted: December 21st, 2013 6:11 PM

Be it 97,200 or the Village, whenever they want more tax dollars, I "Keep it simple" and just vote "NO".

Tired of Taxes from Oak Park  

Posted: December 21st, 2013 5:00 PM

Why, oh why did I vote for the District 97 referendum?

Jeff Schroeder from Oak Park  

Posted: December 21st, 2013 4:58 PM

I agree with Gail Moran regarding parking issues. A civic campus might make sense in Huntley or Barlett, where there are big wide open spaces for parking, but not in a dense parking-challenged community like Oak Park. We might as well merge all ten grade schools into one building!

Paddy Boy  

Posted: December 21st, 2013 1:20 PM

I agree with "long time resident"..... let's listen to the public. And I say let's put a tavern in the parking lot of Village Hall. Then if the lads get out of hand the police can just drag them through the back door and into the jail - in effect saving money on transportation. Dare I say, we wouldn't need to get out the Paddy Wagon.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: December 20th, 2013 9:41 PM

During the D97 Referendum last year, I supported the increase though I had my doubts about D97 fiscal responsibility. I did post at that time that I would not support the next D97 referendum if things did not change. I wish I and said "improve" rather than "change." D97 fiscal responsibility has gotten worse since the referendum and I am afraid they are saying, "You asked for change and we gave it to you." I meant positive change, really..........

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: December 20th, 2013 9:37 PM

Long Time - There are two strings active right now about D97. I posted the thread below yesterday. It might give you the insight you are seeking. "john butch murtagh from Oak Park Flag comment as inappropriate Posted: December 19th, 2013 6:52 PM Done - board member Lueck questioned of the CFO to try to get a grasp alternatives. She wanted to know what would happen if the TIF funds held by the village was distributed to the taxing bodies. The answer is not pleasant to OPV. From what the CFO said, it appears that the village would have to come up with $3M that is not have in any budget. I suggest you read Ms. Paychak/Layman's letter from 10-13 http://www.oakpark.com/News/Articles/10-15-2013/D97-needs-to-honor-TIF-agreement.

long time resident  

Posted: December 20th, 2013 8:53 PM

Kind of hard to follow all the twists and turns but it seems to me that what D97 is really saying is they got the message that a new building behind village hall is not a good idea, but they don't want to admit that they actually listened to the public so they are trying to "blame" this awareness on the village. Why shouldn't a public school district listen to the public?

Unfortunately  

Posted: December 20th, 2013 7:37 PM

"......said D97 board President Bob Spatz. "We need them to affirm that a civic campus is still a goal." A what, "a civic campus"?!? Sure, that'll possibly assist all of the businesses located on Lombard, etc between Jackson and Madison, but, wait, those aren't businesses, but HOUSES! Fast Forward, IPads, No A/C and now this? Who is the driving force behind this Taj Majal for a small group of administrators? Underground parking, too?!? Yeah, Madison THRIVES where Admin bldg now is - NOT!

Speedway from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: December 20th, 2013 6:10 PM

So if I am reading the article correctly, sounds as if the Village had some interest in having the admin. bldg. built on the back of the village hall site. If they don't agree, the Village has to come up with the funds for the Madison TIF. Don't think this was clearly stated at the meeting. VOP what have you promised? Citizens do not want this money spent on a new building and especially at this site.

Gizmodog  

Posted: December 20th, 2013 5:50 PM

If D97 puts this up as a referendum for the voters, I hope others will join me and vote "NO"!

Gail Moran from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: December 20th, 2013 5:32 PM

This is a tough one - there is appeal to consolidating the taxing bodies on one campus; but I have personally experienced trying to find a place to park for a Commission meeting, and underground parking is incredibly expensive. I trust that the Village Trustees and D97 Board will amicably resolve this issue.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: December 20th, 2013 4:41 PM

Collaboration is a great approach though it will take a while to get D97's dagger out of the village's back.

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