Lake Street construction work will continue as planned between Oak Park Avenue and Euclid Avenue, despite pleas from restaurant owners and a petition to delay the project. In a 6-1 vote Sept. 8, the Oak Park village board decided to stick to the schedule to start streetscaping and sidewalk reconstruction in September, necessitating the removal of outdoor restaurant dining on that block.

“There’s simply too much work to really incur further delays this year and still build it this season,” Village Engineer Bill McKenna told the board.

According to McKenna, construction crews need roughly full three months to build new sidewalks and streetscape the area. If delayed, work would have to be moved to 2021 likely starting in April and ending mid-July.

Restaurants on that block have expressed profound anxieties over losing their outdoor dining, which has become a lifeline during the COVID-19 pandemic. Restaurant owners fear the loss of revenue generated from outdoor dining will lead to permanent closures and bankruptcy. 

The restaurants will likely have to move their outdoor dining setups Sept. 9, according to Public Works Director John Wielebnicki.

Village staff plans to work with the block’s restaurants to help them find alternative space for outdoor dining, including adjacent alleys and the private parking lots owned by restaurant landlords. Village staff will also coordinate on marketing efforts to encourage people to order carryout or delivery from the affected restaurants.

The entire $15 million Lake Street reconstruction project is currently scheduled to finish around Thanksgiving. The village of Oak Park received $3 million in federal funding for the project which stretched from Harlem Avenue to Austin Boulevard.

“Should the board desire to delay work until 2021, potentially what would happen would be the village would need to incur the cost for any labor increases, material cost increases, storing materials, stuff like that,” McKenna said during the Sept. 8 board meeting.

The incurred cost would likely range anywhere from $100,000 to $300,000.

“We’re looking probably around a quarter of a million for that increased construction cost to move that project to next year,” McKenna said.

The village of Oak Park would also have to cover additional costs from the engineering firm hired to oversee construction.

“When they submitted costs for that they weren’t envisioning the work going all the way up into next year,” McKenna said.

A delay could also present undetermined complications regarding the local agency agreement Oak Park entered into in November 2018 with the state to use the federal funds.  

“The state could hold us somewhat liable for any lost production,” said Wielebnicki.  “We’re in a position with a lot of unknowns in terms of cost.”

The financial unknowns associated with postponing the project was the impetus needed for Trustee Jim Taglia to favor starting the work this month, as originally planned.

Trustee Simone Boutet took issue with the lack of stipulated penalties regarding terminating contracts.

“If there’s a written contract, there should be consequences stated,” said Boutet. “Someone should be able to interpret that contract and inform us adequately. Those answers are not as forthcoming as I would expect.”

The current condition of the sidewalks also proved influential, especially to Trustee Dan Moroney, who admitted he had planned to vote for a delay but changed his mind after walking on the sidewalk.

“Given the state of the sidewalks, pushing this off isn’t really too viable,” Moroney said.

Trustee Deno Andrews said he was “very sensitive” to the restaurant’s predicament but that it felt irresponsible not to continue the project as planned given the potential cost increases and legal issues.

Trustee Arti Walker-Peddakotla wanted to know if the village could delay construction by a month or two to give the restaurants a little more time. McKenna said that not a viable option with seasons changing.

“We couldn’t start any major construction and expect it to be completed by winter,” McKenna said.

Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb, himself a restaurant owner, stated that the issue had “a lot more layers than meets the eye.”

“I feel terrible about what all these businesses are going through. I know I’m going through the same thing,” said Abu-Taleb. “I understand and feel their pain.”

However, the potential financial impacts to the village and its taxpayers prompted the mayor to vote against the delay.

Walker-Peddakotla was the sole board member to vote in favor of a delay.

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