For well over a decade, Oak Park village officials have been planning to dig up and rebuild Oak Park Avenue from Lake Street to Pleasant. The water and sewer lines under the street were well over a century old, inadequate for modern needs, and bound to spring a semi-catastrophic leak at any moment.

While that hasn’t happened yet, we are convinced that this is a project rightly at the top of the village’s capital investment plan. A steering committee made up largely of Hemingway District business people has been working with the village engineer for some time to make a plan for what this key commercial area will look like above ground when the project is undertaken in 2025.

That committee reported to the village board last week with its recommendations. The board directed staff to find savings from the premium plan proposed and to move toward the “medium” option presented. That will bring the final costs down from the $14.5 million Cadillac plan to the $11.6 million Kia model.

We’ve long thought improvements made to Downtown Oak Park through its various streetscaping phases were a little much. A lot of bluestone and granite for our more pedestrian tastes.

What’s interesting in the current proposals is the focus on the impact of lighting, the attention to climate details, the addition of public art and the bending of infrastructure to accommodate the permanent interest in the Hemingway District as a dining hub.

But this is a project that must be done. The underground pipes are ripe for replacement. And the current streetscape has been basically untouched since its installation in 1984. That’s 39 years tired.

We commend the steering committee and the board for this creative plan and for the direction to trim costs back somewhat.

‘Never give up’

Once in a while a story just hits us. Perseverance. Optimism. A determined vision. And lots of support.

That’s the story of Keith Reardon. He grew up in Oak Park. Went to the local schools. Got most of the way through college and then self-diverted because, as he told our Amaris Rodriguez, “I had no direction.” And so he came back to the village and took a job as a custodian in the District 97 public elementary schools.

We are fans of school janitors and school secretaries. They’re the glue that holds a school together.

Reardon, though, gradually realized that his calling was to teach. So while working in the schools he went back to school at Triton and then Dominican and got his degree in education. That took eight years.

After being a student teacher at Percy Julian Middle School he is now a first-year social studies teacher there. 

His message to his students is plain. “It is OK to fail but it is never OK to give up. … It’s the journey, the obstacles, that is what makes everything great.”

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