As two residents of Oak Park who have spent a lot of time in our village hall, since soon after it was constructed — Sandra as an 8-year member of the staff in the Community Relations Department and 16 as the elected village clerk, David as a village trustee, who later served on the Historic Preservation, Plan, and Public Art commissions — we are very concerned that the needs of the community and village staff be addressed through improvements to the building rather than through its demolition.
The building is located where it is, not because of land availability or cost, but as part of a commitment by a dedicated board to confront the naysayers who were writing off the east side of the village. Similarly, the glass-walled, open courtyard was and remains an invitation to be part of the community.
Bill Dring, a native Oak Parker and an architect who worked in the Weese office when village hall was designed, has already corrected some of the misconceptions about the ideas behind the design, and particularly the placement of the Police Department. Others have pointed out that spaces meant to be open and inviting as a major component of open government have been chopped up and/or cut off by dividers, and that the requirements and desire to address access issues has complicated some of the changes, walling off the residents from the employees there to serve them.
These issues, and the fact that important changes to accommodate the new realities (like installing a totally inadequate elevator rather than a full service one to the Council Chamber, or the equally inadequate chair lift to the Police Department) were made for immediate cost savings and now are given as part of the rationale for replacing the entire building.
We are not certain of the statistics relating to village employees, but it seems that the erection of the Public Works Building, the outsourcing of certain functions of government and other shrinkages in some departments, suggest that the current building should be able to adequately house all of the necessary functions other than those of the Police Department.
A new home for that department is certainly needed.
Creativity rather than demolition is what is needed in addressing such key and vital issues as access for all and a maximal attention to the current and future environmental needs. There should be a full and comprehensive examination by all segments of the community, including those already serving on or having served on our many commissions and committees.
Oak Park has faced bigger challenges, and we came out stronger for our joint efforts. Let us be deliberate and committed to our growth and change while we remain the community where architectural creativity is admired and preserved.
Sandra and David Sokol are longtime Oak Park residents, who have spent years in public service.