Everyone knows, and accepts, that we need a new police station. It was meant to be temporary, and it looks it. That is not a controversy. A vote to pursue the destruction of Oak Park Village Hall, on the other hand, is disturbing.
What are they thinking? Every time I go to village hall, I marvel at the openness, the angularity, and uniqueness. Designed by the renowned architect Harry Weese, it is significant enough to be on the National Register of Historic Places! As a longtime resident of Oak Park, I have taken pride in our community being ahead of the curve. We take pride in our architectural heritage. Village hall is a unique architectural modernist landmark for Oak Park and, really, it’s the only major example of quality modernist architecture in the village.
Love it or hate it, that fact remains.
Too many in our community only want buildings to reflect the FLW era of 1880-1940 to be “contextual.” Anything else is unimportant. That mindset seems to have been at play when the trustees voted to prioritize the scenario for destruction of village hall. That architecture isn’t what they care about. Really?
Oak Park strives to be a leader in environmental adaptations to battle climate change. We work to embrace our values of diversity, tolerance, and service. I never thought I would see our village trustees try to destroy our architectural heritage while simultaneously being environmentally destructive. Demolishing buildings to build anew is near the bottom of preferred environmental practices.
We talk a lot about preservation, restoration, and maintenance of our buildings in Oak Park. Why doesn’t that apply to a mid-century modernist landmark?
An alternative that was seemingly dismissed is the preservation/restoration and environmental upgrading of village hall. The possibilities are many: solar, geothermal, thermal windows, more and better insulation, and many other options. It would require creativity, money and time, but wouldn’t it be worth it to show our community is committed to our values? Would those costs exceed the $140M to destroy village hall?
The timing is right to obtain federal and state funding for environmental improvements. Given the possibility of getting federal grant funding for the environmental upgrades, the costs may not be as exorbitant as they appear.
Another suggestion: Build the new police station on the present heat island, eyesore parking lot next to the village hall. Put the parking into the lower stories — or even better, underground. The closer proximity to village hall would seem to be an advantage. The neighborhood could keep its green space. Better yet, give it to the park district to upgrade to a nice pocket park.