Rising enrollment in Oak Park’s District 97 schools will, in the near future, force the displacement of the district’s venerated but actively ignored Multicultural Center. By the end of the 2016-17 school year, the district will need the space at Percy Julian Middle School for classrooms.
We think this is good news, not because we’re not active supporters of the center but because it is time, past time, for the school district and the village overall to finally assess how much it values this unique entity. Part museum, part learning center the Multicultural Center operates in near obscurity, with a one-person staff, no discernible base of supporters, and one Saturday per year when it mounts Ethnic Fest and people remember to feel good about celebrating our diversity.
That is not a description of a future mission. It is nostalgia dolloped with apathy.
The school district knows it needs the classroom space at Julian but seemingly has not a clue about what to do with the center. In fact, it is Oak Park village government’s Community Relations Commission that has taken up the charge of identifying options for the center.
So far, what we’ve heard is that the district plans to hire a grad student to catalog the large collection of artifacts that have accumulated at the center over its four decades. And divvying up the collection among its 10 grade school libraries is on the table.
The Community Relations Commission has suggested an alliance between the Multicultural Center and the Historical Society of Oak Park-River Forest, which will move into its new/old building on Lake Street later this year. An interesting idea.
An earlier idea to move the center into the new district administration building seems logical but ran into obscure state rules on what is a school and what is an office building and how each has to be paid for.
The moment is now. There is an almost 18-month window to think this through, make a plan and implement it. Whatever the plan, it will be superior to the limbo state the Multicultural Center currently occupies.