The Park District of Oak Park has not lost sight of its plan to build a new community recreation center despite grappling with the COVID-19 crisis. To give the community an update on where the project currently stands, the park district is hosting a virtual open house meeting June 17 at 6:30 p.m.

“It can hold up to 500 individuals. It will be recorded and available afterwards for anyone who cannot attend the meeting,” said Jan Arnold, executive director.

As of June 12, Arnold said, 175 people have signed up to attend; those who attend will hear from the different organizations involved in the project and see preliminary designs for the center, which the park district plans to build on Madison Street between Harvey Avenue and Highland Avenue.

Arnold will introduce the project to the community and explain the need for a new community recreation center in Oak Park during the virtual meeting.

Lisa DeVivo, head of the Oak Park Township Community Mental Health Board, will also be at the meeting to explain the board’s partnership in the project and the ability of the board to provide mental health services to a broader community by having a presence at the recreation center.

“With the pandemic now, we’re seeing a rise in mental health needs and it aligns with our identified needs that we have seen with these types of facilities,” Arnold said.

Representatives from Perkins + Will, a Chicago-based architecture and design firm, will present design and location concepts.

The virtual open house will also have polling questions to garner community feedback. The question topics include building placement, space utilization and more.

Arnold declined to share any of the preliminary design plans that Perkins Will representatives will present during the virtual open house.

“Right now, I would think it’s premature for me to provide anything until we get additional feedback from residents,” she said.

“Then we will identify a new website that has been set up by the design team to hold all of this information,” Arnold said.

The website will have a contact button so residents can reach out directly with any questions related to amenities, design, fundraising and other subject matter related to the project. The website will house the recording from the open house meeting, which Arnold expects to last about 90 minutes.

“We’re excited to share with the community the project and the future of what we believe will be an enormous asset to the community,” said Arnold. “And doing so without any new taxes, which is very important to the parks board and I’m sure the residents in Oak Park.”

The park district has committed to not levying any additional or new taxation to build the center. In January, the Parks Foundation of Oak Park, a volunteer-based non-profit organization separate from the park district, launched a capital campaign to raise funds for the center.

Dr. David Ansel and Mary Jo Schuler are co-chairs of the capital fundraising campaign. Schuler and her husband donated the stretch of Madison Street land on which the future recreation center will sit. Ansel and Schuler will also present at the open house.

“One of the things people ask about is the operational component and how this is not going to cost new dollars. The pro forma we’ve put together shows that this building is a breakeven operation. It’s a mixture of free and fee-based programming,” said Arnold.

The COVID-19 crisis has not hampered the fundraising efforts, according to Edward Kerros, Parks Foundation of Oak Park vice president.

“It really hasn’t stopped our fundraising at all,” he said.

The initial fundraising goal is $20 million to build the center. As of June 10, the capital campaign has raised 53 percent of that amount.

“Over the last few months we’ve been reaching out to many individuals, as well as foundations and some corporations,” said Kerros. Once it hits 75 percent of the goal, the campaign will broaden the scope of its fundraising, opening it up to the wider community. But for now, the campaign’s focus is still on corporate sponsors, foundations and select individuals, which, according to Kerros, is going well.

“We’ve had great conversations with individuals, foundations and corporate sponsors who have the ability to make a transformational gift for the center,” said Kerros. “To provide opportunities that benefit all children, seniors and families in Oak Park.”

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