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The Oak Park Township is getting into the nitty-gritty details of how it plans to convert a long-vacant building along Oak Park Avenue into a senior center. And with that, the local taxing body has found that the makeover may cost some $500,000 more than originally expected.
The township closed on the purchase of 126-134 S. Oak Park Ave. back in May, spending about $650,000. Originally built in the 1920s, the two-story property was to be part of a high-profile condo project that fell apart, leaving the building empty for years.
For more than a decade, the township has been scouring for a new place to put its senior services — which are now located in a cramped spot on the fifth and six floors of the Oak Park Arms retirement hotel on Oak Park Avenue. It's been there for about 15 years, currently paying annual rent of about $120,000 for 6,500 square feet of space.
The township plans to build out the property on Oak Park Avenue, with a cafeteria on the first floor for their lunch program, and office space on the second floor. Originally, the township expected the project to cost about $1.2 million, including the purchase price, but they've found that the actual cost may approach $1.7 million, according to David Boulanger, township supervisor.
Once they started preparing detailed architectural drawings, they found more things to be added, including a sprinkler system, a larger elevator, and a rear addition to add more space, each of which could cost in the neighborhood of $50,000.
"We could have squeezed everything in, but it would have been cramped," Boulanger said. "We felt it was better, since we had the funds, to spend an extra $50,000 to add onto the back."
The township won't need to raise taxes or take on debt to make the renovations, he said, because it has a $1 million cushion in the bank to absorb those costs.
Frank Heitzman, the township's architect, was finishing up designs for the building last week. After that, officials plan to put together construction documents, and seek bids for the work by the end of this month. They hope to start construction in early October, and have the space ready to occupy by July 1, with the township's lease in the Oak Park Arms ending in June.
Some business owners along Oak Park Avenue spoke out against the township's plans, loath to have a government body take up retail space in a commercial district. But the township has argued that the storefronts were occupied by a vacuum cleaner store when the economy was booming, and have remained empty for years.
Heitzman argued that the senior center will help bolster The Avenue business district.
"I'm glad to see that the township is making it a viable building again," he said. "It'll bring a lot of people to that neighborhood."
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