Park District of Oak Park Board of Commissioners voted unanimously on Dec. 19 to give staff the go-ahead to apply for a state grant to help fund the construction of the long-discussed Oak Park community recreation center.

As previously reported, the project is something the park district and several other governing bodies been discussing since 2016. The park district has already set aside $5 million in funds, has secured land via donation and has drawn up conceptual plans. If the application is successful, the state could kick in up to $2.5 million in grant funding.

The Park and Recreational Facility Construction Program (PARC) is an Illinois Department of Natural Resources initiative that park districts can use to either buy land or build a facility “for public indoor/outdoor park, recreation, or conservation purposes.” 

The state has allocated a total of $25 million for the program for this fiscal year, so the number of projects that would actually get the funding is limited. Applications are due by Jan. 21.

With the community recreation center, the park district is looking to build a facility that would provide more recreational programming and support services. It would be particularly focused on serving seniors, active adults and teens in grades six through 12. 

According to the Parks Foundation of Oak Park website, the center would be made up of two sections. The first section will include a running track, a gymnasium and a fitness center. The second section would include “an aquatics center with indoor swimming pools for lap swim, leisure and warm water therapy.” 

Last summer, Wednesday Journal reported that the Oak Park Township Mental Health Board agreed to provide mental health services for teens onsite, contribute $1.5 million to cover capital expenses and lease space should the project actually go forward.

Park district Executive Director Jan Arnold told the board that, if they get the grant, the park district would have 24 months to complete the project. 

If successful, the park district would have to cover the initial costs out of its own funds, but would get half of the grant amount reimbursed after the project is halfway complete. It would get reimbursed for the remaining half after completion.

While the park district expects that there would be plenty of competition, Diane Stanke, the park district’s director of marketing and customer services, said that its past record using state grant funds should work in its favor. 

“I think our grant history is a positive for us,” she said. “We execute projects when we said we were going to do it. There hasn’t been one grant where we haven’t done exactly what we’re supposed to do.”

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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...

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