Oak Park's Maze Library is undoubtedly a building with historic character, making any proposed substantial changes to it worthy of focused attention from the preservation community. Also well worthy, however, is the library's effort to make the building accessible to persons with disabilities. And to make that happen, all recognize that a creative solution is necessary for a multilevel structure built decades before awareness of disabilities existed.
The question now, however, appears to be where the prime location, both aesthetically and accessibly speaking, should be. The current plan now puts a ramp in front of the library. Whether it should be there and whether it detracts from the look of this historic structure is not an unreasonable concern.
On the other hand, it is a concern that could have, and should have, been brought up long before now.
The library, to its credit, spread out, with much fanfare, a welcome mat to those interested in commenting on its proposed remodeling project. The process was admirably open and covered extensively in these pages. The library also, voluntarily, went to the village's Historic Preservation Commission back in April to solicit input on its plans.
In part because of these efforts, we can't help questioning the timing of an application to make the building a local landmark. We say this not because the building shouldn't receive such consideration, but because Oak Park is already overburdened with process and it could lead to a significant delay in the project, denying residents the branch's services and perhaps adding considerably to the final cost of renovation.
The Historic Preservation Commission will review the application tomorrow, and could also decide to keep the project moving forward through the building permit process. We're pleased the commission is accommodating the library in this way. If the commission disapproves of the plans, however, it's likely the whole issue may not be resolved for at least another two months. Considering how long this proposal has been on the table, that outcome would be unfortunate.
This is an important community institution that will be closed for at least 10 months under the best-case scenario. We believe the project should be allowed to move forward unless a compelling case can be made for a serious alternative to placing the ramp in front of Maze.
Right issues, wrong forum
We were more than a little surprised to hear that State Representative Calvin Giles, of all people, decided to call a meeting regarding a spate of issues that have surfaced in recent years at Oak Park and River Forest High School.
Giles' interest in Oak Park has often been feigned at best (in fact, it's almost news that he bothered to show up), and it seems a state Elementary and Secondary Education Committee special meeting is a strange forum for these concerns to be aired.
An outside perspective on local controversy can serve a valuable purpose. This perspective, however, strikes us as far too shallow, and the notion that these problems could be addressed fairly in one morning is absurd. (Also it certainly would have been proper for the committee to have extended a formal invitation to school administrators and elected officials).
However, that being said, this event raises some legitimate questions as to whether the high school could be doing more to diffuse dogged parental upset over a variety of issues, ranging from discipline and race, to special education.
We sincerely doubt that a state committee is going to be of any real help in bringing parents and the school together to hold an open dialogue on nuanced complaints that need to be placed in an informed context.
However, we urge OPRF to work on its own plans to better connect with parents on these issues. There's obviously sincere angst and fear that the high school has been unable quell.
It's best that OPRF start its own effort now, before who knows who else decides to engage in superficial inquests.