Attention, citizens of Sunflower Valley, er, Oak Park: Bob the Builder is on the way to oversee reconstruction of downtown.

Bob and his “can-do crew” will be part of a unique partnership involving Downtown Oak Park, the Oak Park Education Foundation’s Architecture Adventure program, and the planned makeover of the Marion Street mall.

“We’re pretty excited about working around an actual project,” said Deb Abrahamson, executive director of the Education Foundation. She said students from middle schools and elementary schools will make field trips to the construction site to learn about urban planning, architecture and landscaping.

Organizers of the new program say details are still being worked out.

And learning about the reconstruction project won’t be just for kids.

“This is going to be a fun way to get the community involved in this project,” said Pat Zubak, DTOP executive director. “I imagine there’s not that many people out there who know how to build a downtown.”

Learners of all ages will get to follow the reconstruction-from infrastructure improvements to architectural and landscaping details-through signs posted near the site from its groundbreaking to its conclusion.

“This will be for everybody,” Zubak said.

Bob the Builder is a famous stop-action cartoon character, originating in the United Kingdom, whose show appears on public television in the U.S. and who is featured in educational toys.

“It really is a perfect fit for Oak Park and this project,” said Zubak, who is hoping to recreate Bob’s toolshed in an empty storefront-a place where children can track the progress of the project and maybe create their own downtown with a model-sized version of Downtown Oak Park.

Kids will be able to play on Bob’s construction vehicles, and Bob’s movie will be shown at the Lake Theatre, although a date has not yet been set.

“There’ll be a lot of opportunities for interactive play and learning,” Zubak said.

Bob’s Oak Park premiere will come at an Earth Day celebration on April 21. Zubak said Oak Park’s partnership with Bob the Builder will be the first of its kind.

The Architecture Adventure program is a recent addition to the Education Foundation’s offerings. The privately funded nonprofit supplements the curriculum at Oak Park Elementary School District 97 by bringing practicing architects, artists, scientists and other professionals into classrooms of public schools.

Architecture Adventure was first aimed at middle-school students, said foundation Executive Director Deb Abrahamson, but it has since expanded.

“Already there have been teachers in the elementary schools-especially art teachers-who’ve said, ‘I really want to be a part of this,'” Abrahamson said.

Adrienne McMullen, program coordinator for the foundation, and Frank Heitzman, an architect and member of both DTOP and Architecture Adventure, are working with DTOP to wrap up details in time for the groundbreaking of the project. Abrahamson said she expects students will make field trips this spring and next fall, too. Village staff members hope to finish the mall redo by Thanksgiving.

Construction is never easy, especially for businesses, so the partnership is also a way to keep people coming downtown, Zubak said.

“We’re determined to make lemonade out of lemons,” she said, adding that the Marion improvements won’t be lemons for downtown businesses in the long run.


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