The River Forest park board has formally agreed to purchase the Oilily building, 103 Forest, from its European owner. To make the purchase a reality, though, the park board must first pass a tax referendum and sort out what uses constituents want to see in an indoor facility.

But on Monday night the park board formally accepted the tentative deal for the 14,500 square foot building.

Executive Director Mike Sletten confirmed Tuesday morning that the park board approved an agreement to buy the building and attached commercial storage garage for $2.45 million, contingent on the passage of a Feb. 2, 2010 tax referendum. That referendum will ask village voters to extend a tax levy that is set to expire. The extended levy would bring in $544,000 annually to pay for acquisition, design and renovation of the Oilily building.

“The building is basically off the market until the referendum,” Sletten said. “We’ll have an actual contract drawn up in the next few days.” Sletten added that if the February tax referendum passes, “the deal would close before the end of the month.”

The park board held the first of three scheduled meetings Thursday night to gather input from residents regarding if they want and if so, what they want from the proposed recreation center. Representatives from FGM Architects, the board’s consultants on the project, were on hand to record citizen’s suggestions and answer any technical questions.

A total of 16 people showed up over the course of the two hour meeting, with 11 staying for the entire meeting. The majority appeared to favor the purchase and redevelopment of the Oilily building, though at least two pointedly questioned the necessity of spending between $6.5 and $8 million to acquire and renovate the property.

Park board President Dale Jones and other commissioners stressed that the park board began looking for adequate interior space both in response to a 2008 citizen survey and to greatly increased demand for the park district’s programming.

“What the (resident’s) survey said is citizens want more indoor programming,” said Commissioner Molly Hague.

Sletten noted that the park district has “seen a 50 percent increase in program participation” in the past year.

“We’re meeting in a train station,” Commissioner Ron Steele pointed out.

In general, attendees favored a cardio/fitness center, a multi-purpose gym and multiple multi-purpose spaces for such things as dance and other types of classes and instruction.

Several people mentioned a lack of meeting space in the village as a whole, and expressed an interest in making the more passive, non-athletic spaces as “cozy” and welcoming as possible. A well equipped kitchen and a centrally located fireplace were also mentioned.

Jones acknowledged concerns over costs for the proposed project, but stressed that the current economic climate offers a rare opportunity to enjoy lower acquisition, materials and rebuilding costs than will likely be the case in the future.

“There are low interest rates, low construction costs and commodity prices are low,” he said.

When one man mentioned the possibility of a swimming pool Jones said the board had considered the possibility of building a swimming pool during its 2007 village survey, but balked at the high construction and operating costs, especially in the current economy.

“We did not believe there’d be a wide consensus for anything with a large tax increase,” said Jones. “We think (the Oilily renovation) is the project we think we can handle.”

A second public input meeting is scheduled for Thursday, Oct. 29. At that meeting FGM staff will make a presentation outlining citizen recommendations and seek to refine them.

A third presentation will be made on Nov. 19, outlining design ideas for final consideration, along with projected costs. Both meetings will be held at the park district’s headquarters, 401 Thatcher Ave.

Join the discussion on social media!