Those who have ventured into Oak Park Village Hall are immediately greeted by a sign that reads, “WELCOME TO VILLAGE HALL.” The welcome, however, is perhaps muted by the fact that it hangs just below a rather unwelcoming see-through barrier separating the citizenry from village staff.
The barriers, which stretch across the lobby, are a remnant of a fraught time in recent history when public health agencies had not yet launched a vaccine offensive against COVID-19.
In the time since the jab became readily available, positive cases of the virus have dwindled in Oak Park. The case rate is now only 48 residents per 100,000, according to the village’s public health department. Only 26 new cases were reported for the week ending April 21.
Even as other early COVID restrictions have long seen been lifted, the barriers still remain, begging the question: Are they now a permanent fixture at village hall, 123 Madison St.?
“There’s no plans and there’s no date for them to come down,” said Dan Yopchick, Oak Park spokesperson.
The barriers, made of both glass and plexiglass, were put up in June 2020 as staff began to return to village hall following months of working from home due to the village’s and state’s shelter-in-place order.
The precautionary measure served to limit exposure to people carrying the virus while still allowing residents and staff alike to conduct business at village hall as usual – or almost as usual.
“I think you could tell that it was kind of a temporary solution,” Yopchick said.
Temporary or otherwise, the barriers contributed to the maze-like feel of village hall leading up to the April 4 election. Village hall looked more like a life-size pinball game thanks to the glass barriers and the opaque ones erected for voter privacy.
The voting barricades have since been taken down and, even though nothing’s been scheduled to remove the others, hope remains. Some internal chats have taken place regarding their potential disassembly. No formal meetings, just water cooler talk, according to Yopchick.
And while the wall of plexiglass doesn’t bother him much personally, he understands that it is hardly a stylish addition to village hall.
“It doesn’t necessarily jive with the whole aesthetic of the building,” he said. “But from a functionality standpoint, I understand it.”
For a municipality that purports to be transparent, the barriers provide that service in the most literal sense of the word. They do, however, make for something of an impersonal welcome, albeit a safe one.