The Oak Park village board voted 4-3 Monday to overturn a Plan Commission recommendation that would have granted Corinthian College permission to move into the vacant top floors of the Marshall Field's building.
Trustees opposing the move cited concerns ranging from the legal and financial standing of the for-profit college, to whether downtown would be a suitable location for the institution. The vocational school would have served roughly 300 students and employed more than 30 faculty members.
"There is certainly a place for Corinthian to fit in Oak Park, but something also tells me [the Field's building] is a pretty rentable property, and I'm not sure we've exhausted non-Special Use Permit uses," said Trustee Elizabeth Brady. Brady also noted that the college offers similar courses as neighboring Triton College, but at a higher cost.
Representatives from Water Tower Realty, which manages the Marshall Field's building, said the office space has been difficult to rent, mostly because it is large, and mostly window-less.
Joining Brady in opposition were Trustees Geoff Baker, Greg Marsey and Robert Milstein. Marsey said his primary concern was legal issues facing Corinthian?#34;-a large corporation with 139 campuses in 22 states and Canada.
"My biggest concern is with the company itself. There is a class action suit pending. In addition, it's lowering its earning expectations by 38 percent," he said. "This gives me pause as to the stability of the company."
At the board meeting, Plan Commission Chair Colette Lueck said the commission supported granting the college a use permit, saying it wouldn't negatively impact the area and would bring more daytime activity to downtown. Lueck also said the organization would be a positive asset to both Oak Park and neighboring Chicago.
"I think one of the challenges of Oak Park is to be a good neighbor and support both communities equally and in good ways," she said.
In her support of the commission's finding, Trustee Martha Brock echoed Lueck's statement. "This would be a step in the right direction. Sometimes I wonder if there's a class-ism in Oak Park. We can either be stuck in being all about us or look at how we can reach out," she said.
Trustees Ray Johnson and President David Pope also supported allowing the college to lease the space. "One of our strategies downtown is to increase daytime use. I think every major organization has legal issues. I believe in fostering diversity downtown and this use does that," Johnson said.
Prior to the vote, representatives from the Taxman Corporation spoke in opposition to the permit request, saying a more traditional office tenant would be better for downtown.
"Ninety percent of the students will be earning a little over minimum wage. This is not the shopper profile we'd like to bring to downtown Oak Park," said Tim Hague, president of Taxman. "I do not believe locating a college in downtown is in the best interest of Oak Park."
The company has attempted to purchase the Field's building, and a lawyer representing Water Tower Realty said Taxman's "objection his in is own best interest."
Public Works won't build till fall
Construction work on Oak Park's new Public Works Center is now projected to begin in early October, said Public Works Director John Wielebnicki.
The center is currently estimated to cost roughly $28 million, but the village has not yet received the guaranteed maximum price on the project from the contractor.
The planned center is two stories and 150,000 square feet. Salt will be stored within the building.
Additional crossing guards cost $20K
In order to meet increased demand brought on by District 97's decision to institute a unified start time for all elementary schools, the village will pay $20,000 to hire nine additional crossing guards.
Though the board's vote was unanimous, Trustee Geoff Baker noted that he had believed "consistent start times were sold to the public as cost-free."
Trustee Martha Brock said she would have preferred that Dist. 97 provide the village with a financial analysis justifying its request for funding from the village.
The village has historically paid for crossing guards.
Goal setting session set
The village board will be holding an all-day goal setting session on Saturday, from 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m., in the Cusack Board Room at Dominican University, 7900 W. Division St., in River Forest.