Township, parks, eye partnering on new senior services space

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By KATHARINE GRAYSON

The space used by Oak Park Township's senior services at the Oak Park Arms has posed two problems over the years: To get to the dining area on the fifth floor, seniors have to ride an "old, small, very slow" elevator, or climb five narrow flights of stairs, said Township Supervisor David Boulanger. And on the sixth floor, senior services staff work in cramped office quarters.

"We had a space study that pointed out the plusses and minuses in the space, and the conclusion that stuck in my mind was that this will never be a good space for senior programming because of accessibility," Boulanger said.

The township has been looking for a 9,000-square-foot space?#34;2,000 square feet larger than its current area?#34;but hasn't had much luck over the years.

Now, in a new effort to finally settle on a solution to the long-term problem, the township is looking to work with the park district on developing a suitable space for seniors, which may ultimately mean expanding one of the district's recreation centers.

Both Boulanger and Park District Director Gary Balling said discussions on the idea are very preliminary. The township and district will talk about the issue formally at a park board meeting tomorrow night, and Balling said it's quite likely that a task force will be created to examine options carefully.

Balling said a rec center may be one option, as the district's comprehensive plan suggested that two of the buildings be converted into specialized facilities, such as a senior or youth center.

However, it's unlikely that any particular rec center in its current form would be a suitable option.

"If township senior services were to fully move over to park district land, I doubt any of the community centers as currently configured would be sufficient," Boulanger said. "We would have to do some modification, add on or go up," he said, adding that any facility would need a commercial kitchen.

Balling agreed, saying the issue would have to be considered as the district conducts site master plans for each individual park.

"We'll have to look at impact on the neighborhood, open space constraints, and parking. That's why we really chose the site master plan route," he said.

Balling said it's possible, but far less likely, that a new building would be constructed on park property.

How much the project would cost is also currently unknown, though Boulanger said the township could likely devote between $500,000-$700,000 toward the effort. Boulanger said one goal of the township is to move forward without having to seek a voter referendum.

He added that though Oak Park is often short on space, he believes this is an opportunity to do something more for seniors.

"In how I think of Oak Park, and the standard that we like to be measured by, I think we can do better," he said.

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