At a Sept. 27 meeting, the Oak Park Elementary School District 97 Board of Education unanimously voted to allow the village of Oak Park to use funds from the Downtown Tax Increment Finance District to cover the cost of cleaning up a contaminated development site. The Oak Park and River Forest High School District 200 board approved the same agreement at a Sept. 22 meeting. 

Earlier this year, according to a Sept. 22 Wednesday Journal report, “construction planning on Elevate Oak Park, an apartment and retail development on Lake Street near Harlem, was delayed after testing found leaking petroleum tanks beneath the site that required environmental cleanup costing up to $3 million.” 

In addition to allowing the money to be spent on the cleanup, the agreement “would require the village to declare as surplus the $1.2 million that remains of the 2014 Downtown TIF funds after the $3 million cleanup costs are covered.

“Any 2014 TIF funds not included in that $1.2 million surplus would be distributed to the taxing bodies. In addition, the second amendment requires the three taxing bodies to open an escrow account out of which TIF surplus distributions would be made quarterly.”

In a statement released at the time of the vote, school district officials noted that the D97 board “spent a great deal of time studying and discussing this issue, especially given the critical juncture we are at in terms of our district’s financial future. In the end, we decided to support this amendment because it would mitigate the need for the village to raise taxes to cover the cost of work that, while unexpected, is necessary for the successful completion of the project.

“We understand the unique challenge this situation created for our fellow governing bodies, and appreciate their willingness to find a solution that will help us build a better tomorrow for our community.”

Michael Romain

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