It’s been almost three years since Oak Park trustees rejected plans for a daycare center to locate on South Marion, but on Monday, the owners of Oak Leaf Academy were approved for their new location at 200 Lake St., the long-vacant former Blockbuster store.

Oak Leaf Academy, a daycare center for children age six months to six years, was denied a village permit in late 2012 to open on the newly streetscaped South Marion, despite a unanimous recommendation from the village’s plan commission. At the time village staff argued that the daycare did not meet the village’s vision for retail in the downtown business district.

Trustees Bob Tucker and Adam Salzman were the two dissenting votes on the board in 2012, and supported allowing Oak Leaf Academy to locate on Marion.

“That was one of the most difficult and disappointing decisions – I’m so thrilled you came back,” Salzman told Oak Leaf Academy LLC owners JoAnn Gantar and Melissa Veatch at Monday night’s meeting.

Tucker echoed Salzman’s comments: “That was a horrible night, and I’m glad we can fix it now.”

The new facility, in a strip mall at the corner of Lake and Lombard, will include four daycare rooms providing daylong preschool education. Sixty-seven spots will be available once the facility is open. 

Gantar told trustees that the daycare has been operating out of her home on the 300 block of S. Kenilworth in Oak Park for the last two years, but the school is busting at the seams for space.

She assured trustees that the business would not create traffic congestion, noting that Oak Leaf has rolling drop-off and pick-up times, allowing parents to get their children at different times of day. This will prevent high traffic times, Gantar said.

Parents of children in the daycare also testified in support of the new business. Emily Dougherty said her son attends Oak Leaf Academy and that there is a “huge need” for daycare facilities in Oak Park with the caliber of staff such as Oak Leaf.

Gantar and Veatch note in their application to the village that they will be pursuing certification from the National Association for the Education of Young Children. The business plans to hire as many as 10 staff members to run the daycare.

Contact: tim@oakpark.com

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