By Terry Dean
It's not an ultimatum.
Officials at Oak Park Elementary School District 97 insist an ultimatum was not their intent when they sent off a letter to the Village of Oak Park last month, concerning the possibility of a new school district headquarters being built on the land behind village hall.
D97 officials say they're looking for some indication from the village on where it stands on that idea, and whether the village thinks it's worth exploring.
More specifically, they want to know if the village administration and trustees think the idea has benefits to both taxing bodies and the community. But the school district wants to hear that answer by Jan. 14 or the district will drop the village hall parking lot site from its options.
But that is not an ultimatum, according D97.
Bob Spatz, the school board president, said the district isn't looking for a final decision from the village by that date. The district has other sites under consideration, including an offer from the Madison-Highland developers to be a tenant at that soon-to-be-built property.
As for the village hall parking lot, Spatz added, D97 is willing to move off that idea if the village doesn't think it will work. They just want an answer, one way or the other.
"It definitely was not intended as an ultimatum but simply an effort to be transparent about the date, four weeks in the future, of likely, but not guaranteed, action by the District 97 board," Spatz said.
With the holidays, Spatz doesn't expect any formal or informal response from the village until the New Year at the earliest. D97 sent its letter to the village on Dec. 18.
In an interview with Wednesday Journal just a couple of days later, Village President Anan Abu-Taleb stressed the importance of the village and D97 working together to find a solution on relocating the administration headquarters. But it wouldn't be prudent, he added, for either side to walk away from an option that might be the best one in the long run.
"I can tell you for a fact that I respect everyone on the D97 board, and they work hard. But I don't like to put myself in a position to make a decision I haven't fully studied," Abu-Taleb said.
According to Spatz, "If the village believes there are, or may be, persuasive reasons, but needs more time to study them — and the village communicates the reasons and a timeline for the study — then that is new information the District 97 board will seriously consider before taking or delaying action on Jan. 14."
The D97 and village boards met publicly Dec. 14 to discuss the headquarters option, as well as the future of the Madison Street TIF. But the tightly run two-hour meeting at village hall included roughly an hour of public comment, mostly from neighbors opposed to building on the parking lot. The rest of that Saturday-morning session involved a Q&A from trustees to village administrators about the idea. Spatz also gave a presentation, which included other proposed sites D97 is considering.
Spatz and other D97 board members noted there wasn't enough time at that session to get the kind of feedback from the village they were looking for.
The potential impact of the Madison TIF on a new D97 headquarters was discussed Dec. 14, but very briefly, stemming from a question posed to village officials by Trustee Collette Lueck.
A potential deal struck between the two taxing bodies could involve swapping the parking lot land in exchange for money owed to D97 from the Madison TIF. 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.
Tim Inklebarger contributed to this story