The prospect of Oak Park and River Forest High School taking ownership of the Lake and Scoville parking garage from the Village of Oak Park, which has administered the structure since its construction 10 years ago, will not happen anytime soon.
The 300-space garage was built in 2003 via intergovernmental agreement between the high school and the village. OPRF owns the land while the village owns the garage. The idea of OPRF taking ownership is not a new idea. It was recently floated by former Village President David Pope, who is currently on the school’s Finance Advisory Committee — the volunteer, ad hoc committee formed to examine the school’s large fund balance.
While examining the school’s finances, Pope, at a recent meeting of the group, suggested OPRF could take over ownership of the garage and its incurred debt.
John Phelan, president of the District 200 Board of Education, told Wednesday Journal last week that such a discussion is not on the board’s agenda. He also wasn’t sure about all of the details concerning the garage’s lease at this point. He believes Pope has Oak Park taxpayers’ best interest in mind, but Phelan doesn’t have a sense whether the idea has merit or not.
The village in 2003 issued $4.5 million in bonds to build the garage, with OPRF chipping in $300,000. According to the village, the two-story garage has operating costs this year of around $113,000, including general maintenance of the structure. The garage is used primarily by OPRF faculty as well as the public during certain school events. Residents can also buy permits to park there.
The village estimated that the garage would generate roughly $122,000 in its first year. According to the village, the garage currently generates just under $6,000 and currently has only three parking permits issued to it.
Oak Park’s parking fund has been on the mend in recent years, reducing a $10.6 million debt in 2007 to just $2.2 million in 2012. Garages contribute to the deficit, however, and continue to be an issue for the Oak Park village board.
The OPRF parking garage brings in little revenue and has a current annual deficit of roughly $945,000 projected for the 2014 budget. The garage, which is highly underused by the general public, brings in roughly $5,900, according to interim Parking Services Manager Jill Velan. That difference was hard for trustees to hear at a recent budget meeting.
“From that standpoint, we are deep in the hole, and long before we start adding revenues from other garages,” Trustee Glenn Brewer said in response to Velan’s report to the board.
According to Velan, Oak Park pays $840,000 in debt service for the school’s parking garage. Remaining debt is paid for out of the TIF districts, but once that expires it will be paid for out of enterprise funds.
Velan discussed the need to incrementally increase the permit rates in each garage across the village. Trustees have indicated that this proposal needs to be balanced with the on-street parking rates and lot permit rates in order to keep garages competitive.
Village Manager Cara Pavlicek also discussed the challenges Oak Park faces with parking.
“If debt were paid off, you’re still barely charging enough to pay long-term the operating and maintenance — and save up for the replacement of garages so we don’t stay behind the curve,” Pavlicek said. “That’s the challenge in the parking system.”
The OPRF parking garage was a controversial issue 10 years ago. Supporters of the garage, including the high school, argued that it was needed to alleviate congested parking around the school. Opponents argued that there was adequate parking for both faculty and students around the school; they also preferred a parking lot versus a garage.
The garage’s lease is for 24 years, according to the intergovernmental agreement, signed by both parties in the spring of 2003. The lease, after it expires, is renewable in 10-year increments. Residents filed a lawsuit in March 2003 to block its construction, which ultimately failed. The garage was constructed that summer and opened in the fall.
The site was originally an OPRF athletic field.