I don’t fault the River Forest park board for trying to provide indoor recreation space. But the Oilily property is the wrong building, in the wrong location, in the wrong condition.

If the park district efforts are successful, River Forest will have two recreation center-type buildings within three blocks of each other at the far south end of the village. The Oilily property is hardly convenient to residents who live north of the Union Pacific railroad tracks.

It does not make sense for the park district to buy the Oilily building and then demolish about half of it to build a gym suitable for the recreational activities that the district seeks to provide. Though architects said at a meeting in October that the building was sound, preliminary plans now call for gutting the remaining portion, and board President Dale Jones said Jan. 4 that he has not ruled out a complete teardown. Board members want residents to approve a referendum in two weeks, but they can’t say whether the building will be gutted or razed. They’re also not sure if the site will provide enough parking, though the board should be applauded for apparently backing away from a plan to pave part of Washington Square Park to provide rec center parking.

No matter how they spin it, board members are asking for a property tax increase at a time when home values have declined and many residents are feeling an impact from the recession. The tax rate will revert to previous levels after the Keystone debt is retired. The referendum seeks to raise tax rates.

Park board members should have patted themselves on the backs for exploring an opportunity – and then walked away from a bad deal for taxpayers.

Bill Grady
River Forest

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