This week, village staff and architects, who have been working since 2018 on the design of a new police station, came back to the village board with options for our consideration.
While two options were exclusively for a new police facility, additional options were also introduced, which would expand the scope of the efforts to include rebuilding all of village hall. These expanded options would increase the price tag for the project from $70 million for the police station alone to $140 million for police station plus village hall.
Keep in mind that these estimates do not include moving costs and temporary space costs to support the transition, both of which are certain to increase overall costs. I am writing today to share my initial thoughts and seek your feedback on this important decision. The decision whether to build a new police station or an entire village hall complex will have an impact on each of our household budgets.
Our current police facility in the basement of village hall is, frankly, an embarrassment. It was meant to be a temporary space for our police department back in 1975. Almost 50 years later, that temporary space is not only an unacceptable workspace, it also fails to meet the basic needs of the department and our community at large.
The need to replace the police station has been discussed in our community since at least 2017. I campaigned for a new police facility during my election cycle in 2020/21 and have followed the community discussion on this topic since. The need was further validated through the comprehensive Berry Dunn community safety study/report the board commissioned in 2021 and received in 2022. At a price tag of $70-80 million, the new police facility is expensive but needed and long overdue. I am satisfied with the due diligence in analyzing this, and I fully support spending community funds to provide for this demonstrated need.
The prospect of a new village hall, however, may be premature for these reasons:
• Anecdotal evidence of need may exist, but cannot not be the basis for a significant capital expenditure. It has to be based on a comprehensive needs assessment.
• In a post-pandemic world, the ways in which office space is being used to deliver services is changing rapidly, and models are still emerging.
• A new village hall is a significant additional expense with very little community input, debate, or vetting.
Altogether, the significant estimated cost increase, evolving post-pandemic office space requirements, insufficient needs analysis, and inadequate community input prompted me to favor decoupling the decision to build a new police facility from the decision to rebuild village hall. However, the majority of the board (5 of 7) was in favor of considering the all-in option estimated at $140 million (the most expensive option available).
I am also conscious of the already existing burden on our community resulting from cumulative capital expenditures by local taxing bodies (for example, the recent $100+ million spend approved by the OPRF High School District 200 board for Phase 2 of the Imagine project).
How would it affect us to have two such expenditures in quick succession? If a new village hall is included, this translates to a cumulative burden of over a quarter of a billion dollars (billion with a B). Regardless of how we finance the cost, it will make our community less affordable. Debt financing (a loan) would be the logical option, as it would distribute the cost equitably over current and future taxpayers who benefit from these investments. Yet current high interest rates make this option unattractive.
Having said all that, we do have to invest in our community. I would be happy to explore building a new village hall (without delaying the much-needed police station) if there is independently verified evidence of the need, coupled with community appetite for it.
While the majority on the board was comfortable exploring the all-in $140 million option, I am not there yet. This financial burden will land squarely on all our shoulders for the foreseeable future. Hence in this instance, I would need robust community engagement and will be open to a ballot referendum (while not required) to make sure that you the voters get a chance to weigh in.
Please share your thoughts with me @ TrusteeParakkat@oak-park.us. Look forward to hearing from you.