Neighbors OK Public Works concept

? Highest cost estimate for neighbor-preferred design is $21.5 million, not including site remediation costs.

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By BILL DWYER

Oak Park village staff unveiled the final design concept for the proposed new Public Works center last Thursday evening. Though featuring some significant changes, the design is essentially the third option presented to citizens at a meeting last Dec. 16.

With the selection of the third option, the village will consolidate all operations at the South Boulevard site, and will no longer consider additional uses for the Lake Street pumping facility. A collection of drawings related to the final concept can be viewed both at village hall, and on the Internet at http://vil.oak-park.il.us.

"I think it went well," Deputy Village Manager Pete Dame said of the meeting. "We were trying to get a sense of whether anyone had any objections that would preclude us from presenting this to the village board (in late February). So far I haven't heard any objections."

The meeting had little of the contentiousness evident at the Dec. 16 meeting, as neighbors seemed satisfied that the village had addressed their concerns.

Village officials indicated they hoped to begin construction this year. "We've would like to be breaking ground this fall," Public Works Director John Wielebnicki said, adding that Holabird & Root estimate the project will take a 15 months from start to finish.

One issue still looming over the project is its ultimate cost, and how to pay for it. Officials have selected the second most expensive of the three early concepts, and alterations made to those plans, may or may not add to the costs. "We're at that stage where the village has told us we need to sharpen our pencils and keep the costs as inexpensive as possible," said Holabird and Root Architect Ernie Wagner. Bonds are the likely method of financing the project, Dame said.

Though most approved of the concepts, a few residents still wished the entire operation was somewhere else.

"I feel pretty strongly that this land use doesn't belong on this site," said Tom Murtha, who lives less than a block south of the complex. Murtha complimented the design effort, however, saying the architects had "done a pretty good job of what they were assigned to do."

"The improvements on South Boulevard and the additional landscaping on the south side of the site are going to be really important to the neighbors," he said. Murtha added that aspects such as noise reduction, increased fire safety and the isolation of nighttime work activities from the neighborhood were also prime concerns in his neighborhood.

"The building will be in scale with the neighborhood," said Wagner, who added that the village and H & R staff used the list of neighbors' concerns expressed at a Dec. 16 meeting "as a score card."

"The biggest change is where the salt is located," Wagner told the audience. That operation, originally intended to be at the west end of the building, was moved following concerns expressed by the owners of the 38 unit apartment building at Harvey Avenue and South Boulevard.

Landscape designer Cynthia Miller pointed out that the proposed facility adds significant green space, both through deeper building setbacks and green roofs over a significant portion of the building.

Another popular alteration was the reduction of vehicle entrance and exit doors from a planned five to just two. That, said H & R representatives, should make for a more calm and safe pedestrian environment outside the building.

When some audience members offered specific design suggestions for the new building, Dame told them their ideas would be welcome later.
Contact: bdwyer@wjinc.com

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