District 97 and park district still eye shared facility in Oak Park

Taxing bodies remain committed to finding shared administrative space

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By Terry Dean

Staff reporter

Oak Park Elementary School District 97 and the Park District of Oak Park are still interested in sharing a central office facility sometime in the near future.

Recent talks between the two taxing bodies on this issue have taken a backseat while the park district looks for a new leader. But Peter Barber, president of the D97 Board of Education, told Wednesday Journal the two sides are committed to sharing space. And D97 is still on track to make a decision about the future of the Madison Street headquarters by June, Barber said.

The park district and D97 have had preliminary talks about sharing space since last fall. D97 has been looking to move out of its 970 Madison St. headquarters since before the housing market turned south. Barber says it's unclear how strong the housing market is currently but things appear to be improving. Officials at the park district have said they're open to sharing space at their 218 Madison headquarters.

They'd also explore buying D97's 514 Madison St. warehouse as part of any arrangement if D97 relocates its maintenance operations to Oak Park's public works building on South Boulevard, something D97 officials said they're also exploring.

Since November, the park district has been looking for a new executive director after Gary Balling announced his retirement. Barber said D97's Facilities Advisory Committee is weighing the pros and cons involved in sharing space with the park district and will present their findings to the new executive director.

Barber said the school district will explore other options if something doesn't work out with the park district but stressed that partnering with the park district is their main focus right now.

"As we and the park district look at options, we're obviously looking at other sites beyond the ones we both own. But to be clear," Barber said, "we are only looking at the parks and us together because we know that's in the best interest of the community. We're doing everything we can to make that vision a reality."

Barber said the D97 board will make a decision about their central office building by June 30. The administration building came up during a recent intergovernmental meeting of Oak Park's taxing bodies concerning sharing services. The IGOV meeting took place on Feb. 25, with representatives from all the local taxing entities participating.

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Jim Coughlin  

Posted: March 5th, 2012 6:59 PM

Galen, I recall that Ray Johnson once proposed the idea of housing the offices of all the local taxing in a central location. That would be a great idea and allow more commercial properties to become available and contributors to the tax rolls. It's likely cost prohibitive now but great to see that the Park District and District 97 are recognizing the mutual benefits for their organizations and taxpayers.

Galen Gockel from Oak Park  

Posted: March 5th, 2012 5:06 PM

Smart move. Also, the new building should include a new Police Station. The police dept, previous village boards and the manager have long agreed that the basement of Village Hall is not an acceptable location for the police. One new "municipal center" at the Aldi's site could include the Park District and Dist 97 HQ on upper floors, atop a highly visible police station at a key location. But taxing bodies would have to cooperate...unlikely. Some $ would come from the sale of the D97 site.

Jim Coughlin  

Posted: March 5th, 2012 2:36 PM

Smart move. A great way to utilize tax dollars. Intergovernmental cooperation should be on the agenda of every one of Oak Park's local bodies.

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