After years of searching for a solution to overcrowding at its headquarters on Madison, the days of the Park District of Oak Park’s gymnastics program sharing a tight space with the park district’s buildings and grounds department are coming to an end.
At a July 21 meeting of the Park District Board of Commissioners, the board unanimously approved a contract for the purchase of the vacant building at 25 Lake Street that once housed an Aldi supermarket.
“I think this is a real opportunity to create solutions and to really better serve the community,” said park district Executive Director Gary Balling.
The price tag for the property is $980,000, an amount that Balling said was very affordable compared to other sites considered by the park district over the years.
Attorney Mark Burkland agreed. “This is not just a good purchase price compared to other facilities … but it is a good purchase price for this property,” he said.
Burkland said that if all goes as planned, the park district could close on the property in as little as 45 days.
“It will be a relatively quick process that starts tonight that leads to closing on the property,” Burkland said. “This is a genuine opportunity for the park district to determine how to relieve the pressure on [the Hedges Administrative Center].”
The gymnastics program, buildings and ground department, and park district administration offices currently share the space at 218 Madison St., but for years have struggled with the space limitations.
According to Balling, the park district began to explore options for solving the space issue in 2002. In 2006, they conducted a thorough study to assess the space, and since then have been actively searching for a way to gain space for the growing gymnastics program.
“Currently, we have 162 people on our waiting list for gymnastics,” Balling said. Last year, the wait list held more than 220 names. The program currently serves some 1,400 gymnastics students each season. “We know the need is there,” Balling said.
The board did not make a decision about whether to move the gymnastics program or buildings and grounds into the new location, but agreed to discuss the options at their next committee of the whole meeting, scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 1.
Board Vice President Christine Graves thanked the park district staff for their hard work in securing an appropriate building. “This process has been going on for at least four, maybe five years,” she said. “This is the end of a very long tunnel.”
Board president Marty Bracco said he was happy that the board was able to make the purchase without incurring any debt. “We’ve been saving our money for some time,” he said. “Many people deserve some pats on the back.”