By Devin Rose
Oak Park residents who attended the first community forum last week about the proposed shared administrative facility that would be located behind village hall had plenty of questions. But because the plan is in its early stages, board members do not yet have all the answers.
Some from the crowd of about 40 on Sept. 19 asked board members from the Park District of Oak Park and School District 97 whether the facility to be shared would increase their taxes. Others wanted to hear what would be done about congestion and parking, since the building would be built on the current parking lot at village hall. And a few took issue with the idea because they thought money should instead go toward maintenance at their children's schools.
The village recently agreed to let the park district and D97 explore what would be a 20,000- to 30,000-square-foot facility that could house 40 D97 and 15 park district employees. The plan calls for putting the two current headquarters on Madison Street up for sale and relocating D97's and the park district's maintenance operations to the village's public works building on South Boulevard and the D97 warehouse on Madison Street, respectively.
It would be funded with about $3 million set aside by the taxing bodies for maintenance at each headquarters, and roughly $6 million in scheduled reimbursement payments to D97 from the Madison Street TIF. The project is expected to cost between $6-10 million.
The option was one of four that D97's Facilities Advisory Committee recommended in May. But Oak Parker Julie Samuels said the other three options should stay on the table and questioned how much opposition it would take from residents for the boards not to continue the project. The boards are aiming for a Dec. 1 deadline for the village to make a decision to go forward.
"We're going to fight this one off. We don't want this here," Samuels said.
She added that the Madison Street properties could remain vacant for a decade or longer, and asked who would pay the maintenance costs during that time.
"Who's to say those buildings will be sold?" asked Richard Willis, who was also concerned that what is now moderate congestion in the neighborhood would become significant. D97 spokesman Chris Jasculca said they're working with the village to conduct parking and traffic studies before any parking options are presented.
With the downsizing of employees, Willis suggested the park district move back to Village Hall where it was previously located. His comments, like those of a few others, drew applause from the audience.
Martha Moylan, an area resident and Longfellow parent, said temperature control and other maintenance issues in the schools should come before a new building for offices.
"I haven't heard the word 'child' once," she said.
Moylan added that she is part of a group called Fix Our Schools First, made up of parents who want to ensure the district uses reserves and capital funds to repair structural problems before building the administrative facility.
Another Longfellow parent, Kimberly Plaxton-Drobot, said she had the same concern because extreme heat in classrooms there caused students to get headaches and throw up after taking an assessment test.
D97 Superintendent Al Roberts said installing air conditioning is not an easy process but staff is addressing the situation.
D97 and park district officials admitted there were many aspects still being worked out, like the precise amount of money they'd save by sharing resources and whether they could back out after Dec. 1. But park board President Christine Graves said collaboration was what taxpayers had been telling the entities they wanted to see, and this project is a good opportunity for it since both were looking to fix their administrative buildings at the same time.
D97 board President Peter Barber added he thought the crowd would be more angry if it looked like they had all the answers at this point.
Information on future forums will be posted online at www.op97.org/adminfacility.