Alex Rogals/Staff Photographer

What if teenagers not on the college track had the opportunity to gain work experience in fields that promote environmental sustainability, while simultaneously attracting the investment of green-minded organizations in the village of Oak Park? It may sound ambitious, but Trustee Ravi Parakkat believes Oak Park has the wherewithal to turn the idea of a sustainability incubator into an approaching reality.

“Investing in our future is how I look at sustainability,” Parakkat said.

In an interview with Wednesday Journal, the recently elected Parakkat elaborated on his vision for a sustainability incubator, an idea he first presented during the village board’s May 17 goal setting discussion but one that has been bouncing around his brain for months.

“It’s been a long time coming,” he said.

At the May 17 meeting, Parakkat asked the board to consider conducting a feasibility study to identify the cost and timeframe, as well as the overall possibility, of carrying out such a venture.

 Parakkat’s incubator idea was met with modest interest from the board, whose members were advised to keep goals reasonable. But Parakkat doesn’t believe the concept is entirely exorbitant either. The incubator could start humbly, then grow over time. 

“It could be as simple as a training facility that provides our youth, not just from Oak Park but from all neighboring communities, to come in and get skilled in terms of being able to participate in a clean energy economy of the future,” said Parakkat. “It could then build from there in terms of attracting investments.”

A feasibility study, Parakkat said, could help the village determine a jumping off point, as well as identify areas for future development. The board could then compile the study’s findings into a list of short-term and long-term objectives based on cost, urgency and time.

“That would be the most prudent approach because of the complex nature of something like this,” Parakkat said.

As for potential locations, he has his eye on the 3.29-acre plot of land that formerly housed concrete manufacturer  J. Mohr & Sons Co. The property was previously under contract but went back on the market almost a year ago when the buyer backed out due to the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Parakkat ran his trustee campaign based in part on a platform of increasing the village’s sustainability efforts, having served on the Environment and Energy Commission, as well as the ad hoc Climate Action Planning Team.

“Sustainability has to be a focus for humanity in general,” he said.

The incubator is a chance to make good on campaign promises. And the village doesn’t have to foot the entire bill. Partnerships with businesses, non-profits, universities and neighboring communities could help fund its creation, said Parakkat, who does not have an estimated cost for the incubator but said it hinges on the village board’s commitment.

“It’ll depend on the scope as we define it, so if we are looking at acquiring the land, and having developers come in, there is a long process, and the scope of activities will decide the kind of partnerships and the cost associated with that,” said Parakkat.

Parakkat envisions a future where Oak Park is a hub of sustainability with the incubator serving as its environmentally conscious epicenter. He sees the incubator also as an outlet for wider engagement with surrounding villages to reverse climate change, while bolstering camaraderie among neighbors.

“I really believe that it’s got the opportunity to bring other communities together.”

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