On Monday afternoon, Oak Park District 97 Superintendent Carol Kelley sat at a table surrounded by at least a dozen people working at computers. It’s an insignificant scene unless one considers that it would have been virtually impossible at the district’s now shuttered old administrative building, located several blocks west at 970 Madison St. 

Hours later, the large room where Kelley and her staffers were conferencing would turn into the district’s board room, where a special meeting was scheduled in the evening. That flexibility is one of the defining features of the new facility, said Colby Lewis, a principal architect at STR Partners LLC, which designed the $8.5 million, roughly 22,000-square-foot building. 

Another defining feature, Lewis said, is the building’s transparency. 

“With the board room, the first charge was to make it transparent so we’ve opened it up with a large glass wall to the street,” Lewis said during a Nov. 7 tour of the building. “You could watch tonight’s board meeting from the sidewalk if you wanted.” 

In the foyer of the new building, which district central staff members moved into over recent weeks, visitors coming from the front and back entrances encounter a large, tiled wall permanently adorned with student artwork. 

At eye-level, a band of glass showcases dozens of canvasses featuring student paintings, which can be changed with regularity. To the left of the main entrance, and situated in front of a small waiting area, a bank of computers is reserved for parents and guardians to use to perform myriad tasks, such as registering for classes. 

On the whole, said Chris Jasculca, D97’s senior director of policy, planning and communications, the new building’s two floors are designed to get as much usage out of each square foot and to make sure that space correlates with high performance. 

“We were very intentional about which departments were placed on which floors, so the human resources and business departments were culled together, because they do a lot of work together,” said Jasculca. 

“A lot of their functions are intertwined,” he said. “Upstairs, you’ll see that our teaching and learning, and special education departments have office space right next to each other, because those teams collaborate with each other often. In the old building, HR was on the first floor and the business office was upstairs.”

Jasculca and Lewis said that an abundance of mobile furniture, such as tables on wheels, enhances the flexibility and fungible nature of the facility’s work spaces.

“There are lots of little meeting spaces,” said Lewis. “You don’t have meetings off in your office; you go and share with people. It’s also an effort to shrink the amount of space needed. We tried to make organization more efficient by putting departments that work closely with each other, closer together physically.” 

Along with the large tilted wall in the lobby, another architectural feature of the new facility is the airy wood-lined, vinyl staircase that connects the first and second floors. A street-facing wall, hollowed out by a number of rectangular windows — some tinted by various primary colors — allows in a modulated stream of natural light that streams into open second-floor office space.

That sense of unstrained naturalness, said Lewis, also marks the building’s facade — one side of which features wooden planks broken up by windows and metal balustrades. The planks flow into ornamental grasses that serve as a buffer between the activity of the street and the private administrative work inside. 

The other side of the facade features a brick wall broken up by large windows looking into the board room.

“We didn’t want the wood right up against the sidewalk,” said Lewis. “It’s to protect it a bit.”

Jasculca said that the new building will be open for community use. He said that, although the district hasn’t fully discussed whether any fees would be charged for using the facility’s conference and office space, Jasculca said he anticipates that public use will be free.

Jasculca said the district is planning a series of public tours in the coming weeks. 

The district’s old headquarters is now owned by the village government which will market the site for new development.

CONTACT: michael@oakpark.com 

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