Could District 97 take space at Oak Park Public Works?

Schools are first focused on exploring arrangement with the park district

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By Marty Stempniak

Staff Reporter

Positions have been cut and functions farmed out at Oak Park's still new $30 million public works center. But does that mean that the village has room to share with other taxing bodies?

District 97 has been looking to partner up with the Park District of Oak Park to possibly share offices and save taxpayer money. And Wednesday Journal reported last month that school officials may also relocate maintenance operations to the public works center at 201 South Blvd. But would it work and would it save money?

Oak Park has recently outsourced several functions once housed at that building, including street sweeping, public trashcan emptying and the maintenance of village properties. With that, public works has laid off about one-fourth of its workforce, downsizing to about 60 employees, said John Wielebnicki, director of public works.

But that doesn't necessarily mean there are gigantic blocks of empty space at the center. Oak Park has still held on to much of its fleet of vehicles in case outsourcing arrangements don't work, or if the village wants to sweep up streets on its own occasionally after parades.

Making space for District 97 would require finding an offsite space for storing supplies such as barricades, signs, bricks and snowplow blades. Wielebnicki worries that his staff might lose efficiencies by spreading its materials in multiple places.

"It can work, and if that's the direction that the board would like to go, we'll support it and do what we can," he said. "But it does come with a cost and it creates some inefficiencies in the department."

He estimates that Oak Park would need an extra acre of land to make up for the lost space. And with the village landlocked, they'd likely need to look to other towns for growth.

Former Village Manager Tom Barwin was taking the lead on the effort, and Wielebnicki was unsure who would continue it in his absence. Trustee Ray Johnson also supports the idea of sharing space to help put school district owned Madison Street properties back on the tax rolls. He's been talking about those types of arrangements as part of a series of informal meetings with local elected officials in Oak Park.

"If there are other taxing bodies, such as District 97, who think we might be able to share space, we need to be flexible and assertive in regards to figuring out ways to make it work," he said.

Right now, the district is focusing its attention on trying to reach an agreement with the parks, said Peter Barber, president of the school board. They're setting a deadline of June 30 to try and nail something down.

He said it would be premature to talk about using space at public works until they first figure out where to locate their administrative staff.

"Upon completion of that, then we can certainly take a look at what would work with public works and other entities," Barber said.

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Posted: April 4th, 2012 3:24 PM

This could be the biggest waste of money Oak Park has every spent. I love sustainable LEED buildings. But $30 million for a parking garage for a dept that you have been downsizing for 20 years should be a jail sentence for whoever dreamed this up. Seriously? Terrible!

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: April 3rd, 2012 10:59 PM

Yes! Yes! This is the creative thinking and planning that the village has been missing.

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