What started as a consultant’s study of ways to substantially renovate or replace the decrepit Oak Park police station, which sits windowless in the basement of village hall, 123 Madison St., turned into a much wider discussion July 5 before the Oak Park village board.

Among the options presented was the previously unsurfaced concept of entirely demolishing Oak Park’s almost 50-year-old village hall and replacing it with a new police station and municipal headquarters on the same site. The estimated cost of such a project was pegged between $118 million and $124 million. 

“This discussion is limited in just moving to the next step,” said Trustee Lucia Robinson, wanting to make it clear that there is still much discussion and community engagement to be had regarding any new construction plans.

The village board directed staff Wednesday night to proceed with developing the schematic design, the first step in the architectural process, for the new combination facility. The lack of prior community discussion and potential expense lost the votes of Trustees Ravi Parakkat and Brian Straw. 

Those concerns were shared among other board members as well, but the excitement of having a far better, more useful facility for staff and visitors seemed to tamp down worries. Such a building, the board was told, would need no major renovations for 30 years. Trustee Cory Wesley, however, was a bit more hesitant in his support, stating that any final funding of the project should be determined by taxpayer referendum. 

Updating the police station, located in the windowless basement of village hall, has been something of a pipedream project for the last five years, though frustrations with the facility go back to the building’s construction in 1975. The village contracted FGM Architects to conduct a space needs assessment of the station in 2019, then was contracted by the village in 2020 for schematic design services, but the project stalled with the onset of COVID-19. 

Interest was renewed in 2022 when police consulting firm BerryDunn’s report of the village’s law enforcement department reaffirmed the necessity for a new station. FGM was reengaged to update the space needs assessment, finding that the village could benefit from a completely new, redesigned village hall and police department. 

“I don’t think it’s crazy,” FGM architect Raymond Lee told the board.

A brand-new facility could solve space, parking and efficiency problems facing not just Oak Park police, but village staff as well. The building, designed by noted architect Harry Weese, is aging out of its usefulness, according to Lee. 

This was made all the more apparent as water dripped into village council chambers in what Public Works Director Rob Sproule called an “expected leak” due to recent storms. The building’s U-shape, meant to evoke openness and transparency, makes heating and cooling village hall uneconomical. Lee called the building’s heating and cooling “one of the most inefficient systems possible,” but replacing it would require the village to essentially take the building apart.

At one point, the village was considering just repairing and correcting the current police station, but costs have inflated between 30 and 40%, according to Lee. Doing that renovation now, which would have required a total estimated project budget of $9.8 million in 2019, would cost roughly $15.7 million now.

“If you did nothing, this is the kind of money you’d spend to keep it up to snuff,” said Lee. 

The high costs of making any such improvement led Trustee Chibuike Enyia to compare the entire village hall building to that of a broken-down car. Sometimes, he told the board, it’s a better investment to just get a new vehicle. Or in this case, “just get a new building.”

“This is something that needs to get done,” said Enyia, who called the current police station “appalling.”

Putting the police department in the basement of the building was originally supposed to be a temporary solution that became permanent. The dark and dank space has no windows, aside from one skylight, located in a storage closet. There is also limited space to safely store evidence, outdated locker rooms, and accessibility issues among many other problems presented by the building’s age and the changing nature of police work.

“Probably the newest thing was you replaced the light fixtures in 2011,” said Lee of the space.

In the intervening years since its construction, the rest of village hall has had to accommodate changes it was not originally intended or expected to confront, from new technological developments to internal growth, with the creation of new departments, more public services, adjudication and more public meetings. 

“It clearly is just a mess and a pile of needed repairs,” said Trustee Susan Buchanan.

A completely new village hall and police department was not the only option presented, although it was the one that the village board ultimately decided to pursue. Four other concepts were presented including building an addition to the current police station and renovating the basement to keep police training functions there. This would cost approximately between $75.4 million and $77.8 million.

The village was further presented with the option of building a new standalone station elsewhere in the village without renovating the basement, with an approximate cost between $66.9 million and $69.5 million. Those figures do not reflect land acquisition and no space has been identified, but a new standalone station would require 1.5 to 2 acres of land.

The third option called for a standalone station to be built elsewhere in the village, plus the renovation or rebuilding of village hall. The cost of the former would range roughly between $51.9 million and $54.7 million. Rebuilding village hall would increase those costs to between $55.9 million to $62.6 million – this was the option favored by Straw.

There’s always the option for the board to change course during the schematic design phase. This, however, might add to the expenses and timeline, but the will of the board regarding a new facility was ultimately summed up by President Vicki Scaman.

“The minimum is that we want a new police station,” she said.

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