As the village starts to reopen and businesses try to recover from the unexpected COVID-19 closure, Oak Park Village Engineer Bill McKenna met last week with Hemingway District stakeholders to discuss three scheduling options to carry out the planned improvements on Lake Street from Oak Park Avenue to Euclid Avenue.

While Lake Street from Harlem to Austin is being rebuilt to varying degrees this year, the single block just east of Oak Park Avenue requires the most dramatic remaking of underground infrastructure and streetscaping.

“I think the village is trying to be cognizant of everybody’s needs,” said McKenna.

COVID-19 provided a boost for Lake Street improvement progress, as crews were able to carry out much of the work ahead of schedule during the height of the crisis when businesses closed, and people sheltered in place.

During the outdoor meeting held June 25, McKenna and business owners were able to narrow down the available scheduling options from three to two, eliminating an unpopular third option altogether.

The first option includes starting the improvements very soon, possibly mid-July with electrical work at the Oak Park Avenue-Lake Street intersection, which would still allow for outdoor dining. However, crews would have to shrink space at the intersection for safety and Courageous Bakery, 736 Lake St., would lose its outdoor dining on the frontage of Oak Park Avenue.

The removal of curbs and area behind curbs would start Aug. 1 under the first option, triggering road and partial sidewalk closures, thereby ending all outdoor dining except for Fairgrounds Coffee & Tea, 702 Lake St. Work would finish in mid- to late October. Representatives from Fairgrounds and Courageous Bakery did not attend the meeting.

The second option consists of delaying construction until after Labor Day to give restaurants and businesses the entire summer to try to recover profits lost during the shutdown. Under that option, crews would try to complete work by Thanksgiving but would most likely finish in early December.

 Eric Masoncup of Geppetto’s Toy Box, 730 Lake St., was concerned that pushing the start date to September would present weather difficulties for construction crews as the seasons change. He also was concerned about a possible resurgence of COVID-19.

“Starting in starting in September, now we start pushing weather, potentially, as well as the potential of another surge,” Masoncup said.

According to Patrick O’Brien of Scratch on Lake, 733 Lake St., option two worked best for restaurants because it provides opportunities to extend outdoor dining.

“For the restaurants, and I speak to the ones I know, sidewalks coming off, take the tables off the sidewalks,” O’Brien said. “Right now, that’s 100 percent of my dining.”

Phase four of the Restore Illinois plan, O’Brien said, would allow him to have only 25 people eat inside his restaurant, combined with outdoor dining restaurants will have a better opportunity to recoup lost revenue.

“We’ll want the extra four weeks,” O’Brien said.

The third option delays construction completely until spring of 2021, with work starting in March and likely ending in June. Stakeholders ultimately nixed this option. Under option three, the construction would likely take longer than three months due to weather. The third option would also cost the village more money.

“The village is probably going to incur over $100,000 in extras for spring material, winter labor rate increases, and the new material I gotta buy is gonna be more expensive,” McKenna said.

The village engineer said he preferred option two.

“The perfect option for me, which seems to strike a balance, is that Labor Day option because I think we could get it done by Thanksgiving,” he said.

Due to COVID-19’s impact on businesses, McKenna said the village will defer plans to rebuild the Hemingway District portion of Oak Park Avenue from the dirt up until at least 2022 to give Hemingway District businesses an extended period of time to recover.

McKenna will present the final two options to the village board during a public meeting July 5; ultimately, the board of trustees will decide which option to pursue. People can make a plea to the board to choose a certain option in public comment during the meeting.

Regardless of what option is chosen, the duration of work on that stretch of Lake Street is expected to last three months and will involve closing Lake Street from east of the Oak Park intersection to west of the Euclid intersection.  However, the plan allows Oak Park Avenue traffic to continue except when laying the bricks, which will take three to five days.

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