Oak Park trustees moved forward with plans to address how to manage its aging village hall by forming a review committee that will determine options for renovation or replacement.

The move comes about three months after the public decried a proposal to demolish the modernist building and replace it with a $140 million-complex for municipal government and police.

Scaman, who voted in favor of demolishing the building, spent the following few months forming a potential village hall facility review committee, much like she makes recommendations for appointments to Oak Park’s commissions.

“The idea of a facilities committee, no matter which direction we went, was the intention before the vote,” Scaman said at the Oct. 30 meeting.

She added that the board directed Village Manager Kevin Jackson to help with a community engagement process the night of the controversial July meeting when demolition plans were proposed.

The review committee is tasked with determining whether renovations would be more cost-effective and sustainable than rebuilding a local landmark.

Oak Park’s village hall was built at 123 Madison Street to play a role in the integration of Oak Park’s population after the Civil Rights movement. In 1975, the village constructed the center for local government in east Oak Park, where many Black residents started moving from Chicago.

An aerial photograph of Oak Park’s Village Hall taken after construction was completed in 1975. | Courtesy Village of Oak Park

“By putting some attention there, we were continuing our overall efforts towards integration and investment in all areas of our village,” Scaman told the Wednesday Journal.

The National Register of Historic Places added the village hall to its list of properties in 2014, an honor usually not considered for buildings younger than 50 years old. But an exception was made for the village hall because of its historical importance and architecture.

Harry M. Weese, a prominent Chicago architect and preservationist, designed the building to symbolize government transparency with its open U-shape structure and the council chambers’ layout, where citizens’ seats ascend into a balcony that gazes down at the village board.

Despite the building’s role in the community and its notable design, it requires extensive, costly updates. Village hall houses the Oak Park Police Department and its lockup in a windowless basement, which “is in really bad shape,” Scaman said.

The village contracted FGM Architects of Chicago in 2019 to assess the police station and suggest whether to renovate or relocate it. Although the pandemic stalled this process, the board reengaged FGM last year, along with New England-based consulting firm BerryDunn. Both businesses’ reports confirmed the need for a redesigned village hall and suggested many updates, including better accessibility entrances and a new heating and cooling system that would require dismantling of the building.

“It’s not going to be an easy fix — not an impossible fix — but it’s not going to be an easy one,” Scaman said. She added that the village hall’s ceilings, which slant down toward the center of the building, not only contribute to leaks, but also cause sound to carry, providing staff with little privacy to engage with visiting residents. 

At the Oct. 30 meeting, the board’s six trustees and Scaman voted 6-1 in favor of approving Scaman’s proposed review committee to analyze whether these renovations will be more cost-effective and sustainable than a rebuild.

Trustee Ravi Parakkat – the sole dissenting vote, and one of two nays in the vote to demolish the village hall at the July meeting – said he was concerned that the committee was an afterthought and that a rebuild, though uncertain, would be expensive.

     “I know and respect some of the members of this committee, however, I do have concerns about how this came to be,” Parakkat said at the Oct. 30 meeting. “This was created in response to considerable community backlash on the push to demolish and rebuild village hall.”

     Brian D. Straw, the other trustee who voted against demolishing the village hall in July, said at the October meeting, “I don’t understand why one would vote against a committee.” He added that, functionally, a vote against the committee would be one for demolishing the village hall. “This is a committee that’s going to give a real deep analysis of this issue and I’m thankful that we’re going down this path and engaging in this process. This is the right way to do it.”

“Demolition may not necessarily be off the table completely, but, if we were to make that decision, we would be making it with a whole lot more information,” Scaman told the Wednesday Journal.

Scaman organized the review committee of 16 members from the community and the city’s commissions, including the Disability Access Commission, Citizens Police Oversight Commission and Historic Preservation Commission. The committee’s co-chairs Colette Lueck — former Plan Commission chair and trustee — and Daniel Roush, previous chair of the Historic Preservation Commission, will help include additional community voices in the review process.

This committee will meet about five times to assess the building and is expected in February to deliver a recommendation to the board: whether to renovate or rebuild, or possibly to make a few updates to the existing space and to add on to the original structure.

“At some point, we’re just going to have to make that difficult decision,” Scaman said. “Where are we comfortable compromising, and how much are we willing to give up in order to maintain the building?”

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