I’m sure Daniel Burnham was thinking of Oak Park when he encouraged us to “make no little plans.” He knew that the secret to a great plan is avoiding the trap of self-imposed limits and of thinking too narrowly. The most frustrating thing for a professional infrastructure planner like me is that, while there can be legitimate planning limits-financial or physical-more often they are simply a function of not thinking broadly enough.

Oak Park is not that big and we are trying to do a lot of different things with it. It is critical then, that we avoid a narrow, short-term focus and think of the entire community over the long-term.

I had the opportunity a couple of years ago to serve on the park district Infrastructure Committee, and more recently its successor-the village and park district jointly sponsored park district Citizen Committee-which worked on the Parks and Recreation Comprehensive Master Plan. One thing is clear-we have great opportunities for partnering among our various public entities, particularly the village, the township, the park district, and the schools (District 97 and District 200). Each of these public bodies is in some stage of facility planning.

We are fortunate that the current leadership of these organizations generally work well together. That does not mean, however, that they are not susceptible to the inescapable pressures of protecting institutional turf, or taking the less complicated go-it-alone course. The recent difficulty District 97 and the park district experienced in resolving differences over the master plan affecting Carroll Park and Lincoln School-leaving grant money on the table as a result-is a timely reminder. In all fairness, these leaders have been hired or elected to manage a single organization, not the whole community, and their performance is measured accordingly. But that can and should change.

As the people who live, vote and pay the bills here, and whom all of these different public bodies were created to serve, we have the right to expect that they think big, think beyond the narrow pervue of their discrete functions.

Fortunately, some of that is already happening. Township Supervisor David Boulanger has been exploring with the park district a long-term joint solution to the township’s chronic office space shortage. park district Executive Director Gary Balling has been actively encouraging development of joint recreational facilities with Township Senior Services and Youth Services. The village and park district have recently concluded a property realignment that was about 40 years past due. Both school districts and the park district have enjoyed a long history of facility sharing. Site master plans have recently been completed for Carroll Park and Field Park, and, despite the recent hiccup, appropriately incorporate suggested improvements to their immediate neighbors, Lincoln and Mann schools. There are, no doubt, other discussions underway of which I am not aware.

I have spent a good part of the past five years immersed in the park district’s facility issues and being educated on Oak Park residents’ sense of “un-met needs” through the community survey conducted as part of the comprehensive master plan. Having now had some time to think about all of this, I’d like to offer a few thoughts on the kind of partnering opportunities that will provide obvious benefits to the community.

 Dist. 97 and the park district site master plans have recently been developed for Carroll and Field parks and these necessarily include Lincoln and Mann schools. One idea to come out of the public meetings for both is expanding the schools by adding new multiple-court gyms and activity rooms that would be used by the school during the day and by the park district after school and on weekends. This would dramatically improve facilities for the schools and would also address some of the unmet needs identified in the community survey-like gym space, exercise facilities and walking tracks conveniently available in the neighborhoods. By developing this concept at both schools, we would greatly increase the capacity and convenience of recreational and fitness facilities at opposite ends of the village for both children and adults. (There currently is no drop-in gym available to the public in all of Oak Park.)

 The most obvious opportunity for partnering/joint facilities is the park district’s Ridgeland Common and the high school. There are so many possibilities I don’t know where to start:

1) Pools – Both OPRF and park district pools need replacement within the next few years. They are across the street from each other. We don’t really need, and can’t afford, two sets of pools. There is a way to make this work. If it is done thoughtfully, we could get year-round pools for OPRF and the community, especially the warm-water pool sought by and of great value to our seniors.

2) Playing Fields – After years of sitting in the land bank, it is time to cash-in Scoville Avenue. Close it and add it to the mix for a comprehensive site master plan that incorporates the park district baseball fields and OPRF’s practice fields.

3) Ice Rink – It may be great to think that Bobby Hull used to practice here, but would you like to still be using his old skates? The rink is no longer regulation size and the mechanical systems are woefully outdated. With the popular demand for ice time, we could use two rinks-one full size and one smaller. The Huskies and Fenwick would be obvious partners for the park district.

4) Indoor court space – In many new sports facilities, court space is built above pools and ice rinks. We could do that. Also included could be exercise facilities and indoor walking tracks, as well as community meeting rooms.

5) Offices – Since we would be building up anyway, this would be an obvious choice for park district offices. Maybe the police, too. Locating the township here as well would achieve the benefits of consolidated offices in a central location with support services shared with the park district, and would allow direct access to recreation facilities that would serve the Senior Services and Youth Services programs. The properties now occupied on Oak Park Avenue and Madison Street would be added to the village’s development plans.

 Throw in all of the new fields on the Ike cap and we’re almost up to about half of the acreage most of our suburban neighbors have for parks. We need to make the most of what we have. Remember, we’re thinking big picture. We’ve done it before; look how well the new Library/Scoville Park collaboration turned out.

As a planner, I like to think boldly, but the truth is that these ideas aren’t really all that bold. They are obvious solutions when you look at all of the things we are trying to do and how little we have to work with. We just need to be aware of all the facility projects our different public organizations already have in the works.

There will, undoubtedly, be those vehemently opposed to some or all of these ideas because they like things the way they are, or it will cost too much and our taxes are already outrageous. That’s good. It’s part of a healthy public discussion. But many of our public bodies are going to be moving ahead independently with their own plans anyway, and my point is that we need to make sure they are working together to minimize the tax impact on us and to get the most bang for our collective tax bucks.

The time of petty feuding among elected officials seems to be behind us. This is a time to build on a spirit of cooperation and a shared community vision, to share facility plans and actively look for partnering opportunities. This isn’t rocket science, it is just good communication, and, by the way, it’s working in the best interest of their shared constituents.

There is no reason it couldn’t happen, and every reason it should.

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