The Park District of Oak Park moved a step closer Thursday night to a formal decision to tear down the existing facilities at Ridgeland Common and rebuild over the next several years.
What will replace it, how it will be configured and how it will be paid for remain to be decided. Park board commissioners discussed the final draft of the Existing Conditions report by consultant Thompson Dyke and Associates. Key among their findings is that the existing Ridgeland Common facility is both physically and functionally obsolete and should be replaced. Both park staff and the board agreed with that assessment.
“TD&A made a persuasive case for a new and improved Ridgeland Common. They stated the case consistently and concisely,” said Gary Balling, park district executive director, in recommending the report be accepted.
Park board President Mark Gartland told his fellow commissioners he saw no sense in spending $9-$10 million fixing up what he called an old, worn-out facility that would still be antiquated after costly expenditures.
“I’m in favor of developing a master plan to see what we can do with the building, as opposed to spending the money to fix it,” said Gartland.
Whether the board uses Thompson Dyke for the next phase is an open question.
“Do we stay with TDA, or go with another firm?” asked Gartland.
“We think Thompson Dyke did a competent, professional job,” said Balling. “But we think some presentations could have been stronger.”
When Commissioner Jessica Bullock said she wanted to make certain the park district had multiple options in any plan, Gartland replied that he assumed any study would develop three different proposals, as was done in previous master planning for Andersen, Field and Carroll centers. Bullock and Lise Valentine both urged the park district to conduct a survey or utilize a previous leisure survey to make sure the park district accurately assesses public demand for any programs at the new facility. Programming demands, all agreed, should drive the designing of the new buildings.
The two key tasks confronting the park board are first keeping the park up and operating for the time being, while developing a master plan for the 6-acre site and conducting a feasibility study to assess costs.
“Part of the process is to dream, to throw some what-ifs within a realistic framework, and get as many people involved here as possible,” said Gartland. That process, he noted, will almost certainly involve the high school and the village, among other groups.
Valentine said the public appears to have already started dreaming and is more than ready to move forward.
“People are already doing it, based on the people I’ve heard from,” said Valentine. “The [public] understandably wants to know how much money we can spend.”
The challenge of continuing to manage the physical maintenance of an existing park facility that is likely to be totally rebuilt in the foreseeable future was reflected in a brief discussion of the planned replacement of old chain link fencing around the Ridgeland Common athletic fields. The work, expected to cost $35-$60,000, is scheduled to begin after the end of the fall softball season in late October. Balling suggested that such maintenance work, while necessary, needs to be assessed carefully.
“This is one of those cases where we may be making improvements that we’ll be changing in two years,” he said. “You might want to take a look at it.”
“I did,” replied Gartland, shaking his head. “It’s pretty funky.”
“The only thing holding up these fences in some places is iron oxide,” said Mike Grandy, director of Buildings and Grounds. “This is deferred maintenance with a capital D.”