The public’s outrage, heartbreak and general shock at the prospect of razing Oak Park Village Hall has not fallen on deaf ears. The Oak Park village board has backtracked on its bombshell July 5 decision to proceed with designing a new building to replace the current, historic structure. The hope is now to preserve the structure, while updating it to accommodate modern needs.

The potential tear down of village hall, and its estimated price tag of $118 million, has quite literally been the talk of the town. The community’s displeasure with the idea has been apparent on social media, in newspaper editorials and in everyday conversations. The new village hall idea was always subject to change based on community input – and the public’s outcry, which Village Manager Kevin Jackson called “robust community participation,” was directly responsible for the change of plans.

“I want to acknowledge that is exactly what happened,” said Village Manager Kevin Jackson during the board’s July 31 meeting.

The shift in gears was documented in the public record Monday night with a 5-1 vote to amend the village’s contract with FGM Architects, which has been working for a number of years on Oak Park’s original plan to update police station facilities. Trustee Susan Buchanan was absent from the meeting and therefore unable to cast a vote.

The amendment increases the value of the contract from $36,000 to $50,000 and redirects FGM Architects to further evaluate the existing conditions of village hall, 123 Madison St., and the feasibility and costs of renovating it. Immediate renovation needs include bringing the building up to accessibility and safety standards.

The village plans to engage a group of community stakeholders to facilitate future public participation, which staff has deemed “really important to the process,” according to Jackson.

The amendment further allows village staff to hire an independent architectural consulting firm specializing in historic preservation. A request for proposal has not been issued yet, but the board is expected to vote on an agreement with an architectural preservation firm in September.

Once contracted, that consulting firm will evaluate FGM’s report and recommend ways to address issues while preserving the building’s historic status. FGM, the consulting firm and village staff will then work together to summarize that information to be disseminated to the village board and the public.

 Rob Sproule, Oak Park public works director, described the arrangement as a “multi-prong approach to try and get the board a better understanding of the current state of the existing facility, the needs of a modern village hall and the ability of the existing facility to potentially meet those needs.”

As President Vicki Scaman put it, the two firms will provide much more information than just one would have.

“The two firms might identify different things and prioritize different things,” she said.

Instead of breaking the contract, FGM was chosen by staff to carry out the structural assessment, given the firm’s experience with the project. Their prior involvement has given the FGM team a good knowledge of the building, its systems and space needs, making their continuing participation convenient, Sproule told the board.

“Their existing contract with the village allows us some expediency with the process,” he said. “They are also highly reputable in terms of the design and understanding of municipal facilities.”

For reasons unstated, Trustee Ravi Parakkat did not believe FGM Architects was “best placed” to carry out the independent assessment of village hall, stating he wanted to see the assessment “be more independent than that.”

Scaman quickly shot down Parakkat’s concern, however, reminding him that FGM Architects was already under contract, which the village board was merely amending that night, but it was not enough to secure an affirmative vote from the trustee. He cast the sole vote against amending the agreement.

Staff was unable to present an estimated cost inclusive of the historic preservation consulting contract as they have not yet issued a request for proposals. However, Sproule believes FGM’s experience with village hall will make for a more efficient process that could contribute to potential cost savings. Going the route of using two firms, rather than using one for a larger contract, he expects will be a cost neutral move.

“We do want to do the right thing,” said Scaman.

The village board, she said, was currently having a “brave conversation” that previous boards did not choose to have. Those previous boards, she continued, opted instead to spend money on incremental village hall improvements over a period of years rather than address the building as a whole.

“This is the first time that this conversation is being had holistically, so we are not passing down the challenges to the next generation, which grow in their expenses,” Scaman said.

Join the discussion on social media!