Oak Park Village Hall.

An open letter to President Scaman and Board Members, Village of Oak Park:

The news is out that the Oak Park Board of Trustees is seriously considering demolishing village hall, designed by noted architect Harry Weese and building a new building.

I was there at the conception. As the project manager (administrative lead) for the project in 1973 and 1974, I know the building well. I am aware of many problems inherent in the design, most especially the barriers to accessibility. Twenty years before the ADA became law, we were not the only ones insensitive to our mobility-limited citizens. That is not an excuse.

Tearing down the building is a very poor solution. There are alternatives. I suggest you retain an architect with a strong design reputation and a proven record of sensitivity to historic preservation. Give him the list of problems and see what can be done.

Consider the very high cost of demolition and new construction (not to mention the environmental cost). You could afford radical changes to the building at a small fraction of the cost — much greener too. And these can be done while keeping the essence of the original design.

Here are a few ideas that the architect might consider:

•      Get everything on the main floor on one level. This may mean redoing all of the raised level floors, or perhaps raising the lower aisle with one, long easy ramp.

•      The interior and exterior entrances to the Council chamber are not only inaccessible but they are not very friendly. If a simpler solution cannot be found, perhaps it would be necessary to remove that small addition and create a new building with grade and floor level access points. If you do this, there may be other problems you can solve at the same time.

•      Providing an accessible and friendly entrance for the parking lot will be a challenge but look at I.M. Pei’s new visitor entrance to the Louvre in the form of a pyramid. It not only provides the functions, but it is a beautiful piece by itself and is respectful of the old buildings. (I am not proposing an actual pyramid.)

Some ideas may work and some do not. I am sure there are others. These are radical, expensive ideas, but they would be a bargain compared to demolition. Some purists probably think that there should be no changes to a “perfect” design. I am not one of them. I don’t think Harry was either.

A not so minor other issue is the police facility. It never should have been in the basement in the first place but this was not the architect’s idea. A new building is probably appropriate.

I completely understand the embarrassment and frustration that the board and staff must face every day, trying to explain the lack of accessibility and some of the make-do solutions. But if you use your imagination, you may be able to have a truly functional facility and keep the charming, beautiful and historic building.

If a solution cannot be found, well, that is another story. I admire your desire and your diligence in trying to solve a long festering problem.

Bill Dring, a nearly 80-year resident of Oak Park, now lives in Steamboat Springs, Colorado.

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