For its administrator Lynn Allen, the future of Oak Park District 97's Multicultural Center, currently located at Percy Julian Middle School, 416 S. Ridgeland Ave., is looking a lot brighter now that the Oak Park Public Library has made an offer to house the center, which will need to relocate from Julian at the end of the 2016-17 school year, in one of its branch libraries.
In January Allen presented the school board with her own plans for the center's future. The plan entailed the institution moving into the current administration offices at 970 Madison Street after the district's move to its new facility at 260 Madison Street is finalized.
Allen's bold plan was motivated, in part, by her fear that the center would be out in the cold by the time it was forced to move next year in order for the school to accommodate its growing student body — despite assurances from both former and present D97 Superintendents Al Roberts and Carol Kelley that the center's continued existence has never been in question.
Last month, those assurances were justified when the Oak Park Public Library reached out to the district with a proposal to open up branch library space at the Dole Learning Center, 255 August St., for the Multicultural Center.
In an April 26 memo, Kelley noted that David J. Seleb, OPPL's executive director, reached out to her after the publication of an article and editorial in the January 27 edition of Wednesday Journal in order to talk about the library's "history of involvement in conversations about the Multicultural Center." Kelley also pointed out that Seleb confirmed that "his board is very open to this idea."
At an April 26 regular meeting, the D97 school board generally approved of the concept, the details of which are still being worked out.
"I think the library's proposal is a great idea and a great solution," Allen said at the April 26 meeting. "I am thrilled that the library is interested in working with us and happy to see D97 moving forward to preserve our unique collection of multicultural materials in a facility that will permit it to continue to serve our students and teachers."
According to Allen, the center is responsible for some 16,000 cultural artifacts from around the world, which are accessible to elementary students in public and private schools in the Oak Park area. Those artifacts are worth over $300,000, she said.
In a phone interview on April 2, Allen noted that, although she wasn't privy to the specifics of the plan, she believes the center will be located on Dole's first floor. Currently, the Oak Park Society of Model Engineers is housed in Dole's lower level.
Seleb and Felicia Starks Turner, D97's senior director of academic and administrative services — who, along with Kelley, is helping to hammer out the details of the library's proposal, couldn't be reached for comment.