Two months after Oak Park Elementary School District 97 asked the Park District of Oak Park whether it would be willing to provide landscaping services for its schools, the park district’s board of commissioners decided against it.  

Executive Director Jan Arnold said during the park board’s June 21 meeting, it ultimately came down to cost. Between the start-up costs, hiring new staff and other expenses, Arnold said it would be the equivalent of starting a company from scratch. 

The park board agreed that, even if the school district was willing to cover those costs, it wasn’t a commitment the park district was prepared to make. 

But the park commissioners agreed that the park district would be willing to help District 97 put together a Request for Proposal that would allow it to find a private contractor.

As previously reported by Wednesday Journal, District 97 reached out to the park district about landscaping services, because school officials and members of some parent-teacher organizations were impressed with the kind of work the park district was doing on its properties. They wanted something similar at the 11 school district properties.

When Arnold originally brought the matter to the park board in April, commissioners were divided. Proponents felt collaboration between municipal entities would be well-received by the community, while others argued that private companies would do the job just as well, and also wondered what the benefit would be to the park district. At the time the board directed the staff to research the idea more fully.

During the park board’s June 21 meeting, Arnold said that start-up costs alone would be more than $100,000, with the district spending additional $138,000 the first year to lay some groundwork for landscaping improvements and $224,000 annually after that. Having to hire full-time staff and buying new equipment was the major driver of expenses, Arnold said.

“Based on that analysis, the staff doesn’t believe it would be feasible in terms of start-up costs,” she said.

Instead, on June 21 park board members restated their support, first expressed in April, for helping District 97 find a private company to do the work. 

Commissioner Sandy Lentz suggested that the park district work with District 97 to figure out exactly what kind of landscaping services they needed and formulate a Request for Proposals to reflect it.

Since a private company wouldn’t have to deal with start-up costs, Lentz said, it would be cheaper for the school district, too. 

The rest of the commissioners agreed, asking Arnold to relay that message to District 97.

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Igor Studenkov

Igor Studenkov is a winner of multiple Illinois Press Association awards for local government and business reporting. He has been contributing to Growing Community Media newspapers in 2012, then from 2015...