In a One View in today’s Wednesday Journal, Vicki Scaman, Oak Park’s village president, begins a notable walk-back on the recent village board decision to actively pursue a plan that would demolish village hall.

In what started several years ago, a consulting study to remedy the genuinely atrocious conditions of the police station housed in the cellar of village hall unexpectedly veered into a report where the top recommendation was to take down the entirety of village hall, including the police station. Building a new combined facility on the property at Madison and Lombard was suggested.

The response to the 5-2 board vote has been intense. Let us count the reasons: Are taxpayers prepared to spend $118 million and up for a new village hall? Should Oak Park demolish a public building that is less than 50 years old, on the National Register of Historic Places, and designed by the famed architect Harry Weese? How on earth did this proposal get to a board vote with absolutely no public discussion?

Here are two givens: The police station is an abomination. It was a mistake to put the police station in a windowless basement 50 years ago. And it is now totally obsolete. So building a new police station has to happen. And it won’t be cheap. Also, for all the deserved hosannas about the intentional design of village hall to provide transparency in government, the village hall has long had many defects. It was built before ADA became the norm. The heating and AC have never worked right. And many of the workspaces in the building, especially on the top level, are cramped and offer no privacy.

In her One View, Scaman assures that this is not a done deal and that the direction can still be shifted. She urges our readers to look back a week and consider the One View by Bill Dring, a longtime Oak Park architect who helped oversee construction of village hall in the early 1970s. In that opinion piece, Dring readily acknowledges the drawbacks of the existing building. But he urges the village board to engage an architectural firm and to challenge them to retrofit the structure to fix the real shortcomings. Demolition should not be an option, he says, while agreeing that a new free-standing police station, possibly on the green space at the south end of the village hall campus, needs to be built.

Let’s slow down. Let’s focus on preservation. And let’s build a new police station that reflects Oak Park’s vision of community safety and engagement.

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