By Terry Dean
District 97 administrators and staff would no longer worry about ceilings falling down on their heads if the school district moved into the proposed Madison Highlands office project – assuming the long stalled project ever gets built.
The possibility of D97 becoming a tenant at the proposed Madison Highlands space is a long way off and far from certain. D97 school board President Bob Spatz said a move there was "very feasible" but only if the price is right.
D97 would likely be an owner of a floor rather than a traditional tenant, said Oak Park Village Trustee Bob Tucker, who likes the idea of having local government entities at Madison Highlands. The idea is for "tenants" to actually own outright their occupied space, like the owner a condo, says Tucker.
The Madison Highlands project has stalled since the downturn in the housing market six years ago. The project has local backers for constructing the first office space built in Oak Park since the 1960s. Developers purchased land which had been assembled by the village government at Madison Street and Highland Avenue. Recently the village board extended the project's timeline to get underway.
D97 has been at its 970 Madison St. location since the 1970s. And it's in pretty bad shape, if you ask district staff housed there. Two weeks ago, a couple of ceiling tiles fell to the floor, stemming from years of rainwater damage in the walls, says D97 spokesperson Chris Jasculca.
Along with leaky roofs, the central office has experienced electrical issues, resulting in an emergency generator currently set up in the building's parking lot. D97 is looking to move from the Madison and Home office and sell the building. Several options, including Madison Highlands and space behind Oak Park's Village Hall, are on the table. But Spatz said there's been no talk about the village buying the central office building, which is valued at nearly $1.3 million, according to a recent D97 appraisal.
The building could be sold for more if, say, it was bundled and sold with other close-by Madison street properties, according to D97's appraisal, but Spatz says there's been no such talk about that either. The school district is open, however, to sharing space.
The Madison Highlands office project would include first-floor retail space and upper-level suites for other potential "owners."