Fairly stunning that a consultant’s report about fixing the police station in the miserable bowels of Oak Park’s village hall should turn up on a village board agenda and that, before the evening’s festivities are concluded, the village board has approved a plan to deeply consider fixing the cop shop by demolishing the entire village hall.
That would be the 48-year-old, Harry Weese-designed, National Register of Historic Places designated village hall. The building constructed in the 1970s on the east side of the village as a bold statement about the future of a portion of the village seen by many as troubled, constructed with intent to create transparency and citizen involvement, built with a historically crappy HVAC system, came just a couple of years before accessibility became the proud law of the land, and built with the police station crammed into the windowless basement, a failing from day one.
The conclusion has been reached in recent years that the current police facility is inadequate, dangerous, totally depressing and works against every impulse related to open and welcoming community policing strategies.
Most everyone who has been watching, and we’ve been watching, assumed this consultant would agree there was no retrofitting the current station. We anticipated a plan to build a new station, elsewhere in town, likely in the east-central portion of town. In fact we anticipated the new station would be built on the patch of green space at the south end of the village hall campus on Lombard at Adams.
So color us flabbergasted that one of the consultant’s options was a full demolition of village hall and the construction of a new village hall and a non-subterranean police station at the same location. More shocked that the demolition route was the one village trustees were attracted to and ordered additional study of.
We’re talking about demolishing an awkward but almost sacred building. And the first take on a price tag for the project is $140 million.
We appreciate those trustees who are promising this is only the very start of a long public process. And we stand with those trustees assuring taxpayers that any funding plan would have to be approved by citizen referendum.
We’ve watched OPRF High School agree to spend $100 million plus on necessary upgrades to its Scoville Avenue campus and contort itself to avoid ever asking taxpayers for approval of the project.
No more of that.
There will be rightful and intense pushback on the demolition route from both strapped property owners and from preservationists. As there should be. The village will need to build a mighty case to convince residents that this isn’t overreach, that this is not disrespect for a mid-century architectural classic.