| Provided by Park District of Oak Park

The Park District of Oak Park is gearing up for the grand opening of its Community Recreation Center. The ribbon will be cut this Sunday, May 21 in a community ceremony, with an official opening date of 5:30 a.m., Monday, May 22. Ahead of the festivities, Wednesday Journal toured the 42,000-square-foot, net-zero facility at 229 Madison St.

The fully electric recreation center is intended to be a safe space for children and teenagers, while also serving as a space dedicated to promoting wellness and engagement for the entire Oak Park community. Homework help, free after-school programming, as well as safe and supervised areas to exert energy are just some of what the center has to offer young people.

| Provided by Park District of Oak Park

“Teens need safe places to go after school and so we’re thrilled to be able to provide not only staff members to assist with that, but also a space that will be welcoming, inviting and accessible,” said Jan Arnold, the park district’s executive director.

Several hundred people have already signed up for membership and registration is currently open for the free afterschool program, which begins this fall, according to Arnold, who said the park district has received great support from the community regarding the center.

“I read someone say the other day that this is a game changer for them, because they have middle school and high school kids,” said Arnold. “And she’s a single mom, so to know that there’s a safe place for her kids after school, which again, is exactly the reason we built the building.”

| Provided by Park District of Oak Park

The facility is replete with amenities, some of which require a paid membership, but others come at no cost to use, such as the indoor walking track on the third floor. Below the track lies the gymnasium, which has 12 basketball hoops. The lines on the gymnasium floor are designed to accommodate games of pickleball, badminton and volleyball. Nets for these sports will be up throughout the day. 

There are also several exercise machines, including treadmills, ellipticals and stair climbers. The exercise machines are in a second-floor room just off of the gymnasium. Free weights, mats and a stretching table can also be found in that room. On the other side of the second floor sits the exercise studio, a room lined with windows and ballet barres where instructors will teach classes. 

Next to the studio is the new office of the Community Mental Health Board of Oak Park Township, where people can readily seek mental health support. A park district social worker will also be on the premises. Having mental health services near a gym is an opportunity to promote wellness of body and mind, according to Cheryl Potts, mental health board executive director.

“I’m a person living with a mental health disorder and for me, physical activity as well as my mental health care have always gone hand-in-hand, and I think this is a great opportunity for us to bring that to the community,” said Potts.

| Provided by Park District of Oak Park

On the first floor, there is a childcare room and a video game room, also called the “e-sports room.” Both those areas feature murals painted by local artists. Nearby is the multi-purpose room, which can be rented for birthday parties. It will also be the area in which kids can receive free homework help. Further down are the gender-neutral and accessible restrooms and locker rooms. Within the locker rooms are individual and accessible showers, two of which have a toilet inside and one has an adult changing table. 

One thing the center does not have is a vending machine. 

The park district broke ground on the project on March 19, 2022, following a capital campaign undertaken by the Parks Foundation of Oak Park, a non-profit entity that supports the park district through fundraising efforts. The cost of the facility comes in at a little under $22 million with about $15.5 million donated by individuals, foundations and grants; the remaining $6 million came out of the park district’s capital improvement plan, according to Arnold. 

The parks foundation and the park district have previously received criticism for a lack of transparency by both agencies’ refusal to release a complete financial overview of the project.

The park district secured an additional $2.2 million to ensure net-zero status for the building. It received a grant of $1.8 million from the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation and $400,000 from the Village of Oak Park’s sustainability fund.

The community recreation center project is split in two phases, the first of which was the funding, construction and opening of the center itself. The second phase is much smaller in scope, consisting only of putting in an indoor pool, but that may not happen for some years. 

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