Three weeks ago, architects working on the new Oak Park Public Works facility on South Boulevard presented preliminary drawings to the village board. Last Thursday neighbors of the proposed facility had their chance to view and comment upon those three preliminary concepts.
Two dozen people, mostly residents of the 100 block of South Lombard immediately to the south of the existing facility, seemed receptive but wary of the proposed designs. As with the August meeting, noise, traffic, exhaust and fears of visual domination by the potentially mammoth new building were central issues among those in attendance.
Assistant village manager Pete Dame moderated the nearly 3-hour meeting, with most of the later questions directed to one of three representatives from the architectural firm Holabird and Root.
After giving a brief recap of the August meeting, Dame noted that all three current design concepts share a focus on the major concerns expressed by neighbors at that meeting, including the fear that it would result in a potentially stark, utilitarian appearance to the building.
Acknowledging the potential for disruption of neighborhood peace and tranquility by any design, Public Works Director John Wielebnicki said staff was sensitive to the effects that an industrial type operation employing 60-80 people has on the surrounding area, including visual, noise and chemical pollution.
"We want to be a good neighbor," Wielebnicki said.
All three concepts would improve the streetscape on South Boulevard, adding a grass parkway with trees. The public sidewalk also would be moved further from the buildings.
Architect Ernie Wagner of Holabird and Root said that the number of entrance doors will also be reduced from 14 to either four or five, depending on the design chosen, making the South Boulevard side less daunting for pedestrians.
Along the other property borders, setbacks would provide buffers between the facility and both the apartment building to the west and a block of primarily single-family residences to the south.
Overall building height was also a concern among neighbors. The first proposed design, which left the existing maintenance garage to the east intact, featured a tall storage facility on the west end of the complex. Public comment made it clear that neighbors did not want the south side of a new building to be anywhere near the code-allowed 45-foot height. They also made it clear Thursday that they want a "softened" fašade on the south side, or rear, of the building, to better fit in with their older neighborhood.
While such details as the type of face brick have not been decided on, representatives from Holabird and Root said such concerns would be a priority in the next phase of design. While stating that the building's underlying construction will be concrete and steel to assure the strength adequate to its industrial function, Wagner and H & B colleague Cynthia Miller said any final design will fit in with the scale and tone of the neighborhood.
"There's a ton of potential on South Boulevard to break down the scale" of the building, and provide a "good street edge," he said.
Dame said that village staff and Holabird and Root hope to present a final concept at the next public meeting, scheduled for Jan. 27 at 7 p.m at the Village Hall.
"We hope to take the best parts of these three schemes and combine them in one concept," said Miller.