Oak Park Village Hall, 123 Madison St., Oak Park. | File

Will renovations to Oak Park Village Hall be more cost-effective and sustainable than a rebuild? That seems to be what the village board has asked the new Village Hall Facilities Review Committee to determine.

This assignment could very well predetermine its outcome, for rehabbing an outdated historic building can cost a lot and designing a new building that meets today’s needs can be much easier than rehabbing an old building designed to meet the needs of an earlier time.

Instead of preservation, the board has clearly prioritized cost effectiveness. It could have given the committee a different assignment. Instead of asking them to determine if it will be cost-effective to preserve the building, it could have asked the committee to determine the most cost-effective way to update and preserve the building (including possibly building a new police station elsewhere). It could have prioritized preservation, without being blind to cost.

What the village board ultimately decides to do with the historic landmark Village Hall — upgrade or demolish — should also be the example and the rule for every homeowner in one of the village’s three historic districts. If cost-effectiveness is the paramount guide for the board when it comes to preserving village hall, then cost-effectiveness will also be the paramount guide for homeowners in historic districts.

Need to replace deteriorating cedar siding on your 1890s home? Go ahead: Replace it with more cost-effective, maintenance-free vinyl siding. Need more living space? Go ahead: Raise the roof and finish the attic, a simple, cost-effective renovation that, sadly but unavoidably, changes the home’s street appearance. Too expensive to replace your leaky, vintage arched windows? Go ahead: Replace them with modern, energy-efficient rectangular windows. 

What is good for the goose should be good for the gander. If the U.S. Secretary of the Interior’s Standards of Historic Preservation* only apply to Oak Park’s historic landmark village hall only if the village board deems them cost-effective, then these same standards should only apply to homeowners in historic districts if the homeowners deem them cost-effective.

* https://www.nps.gov/subjects/taxincentives/secretarys-standards-rehabilitation.htm.

Mark Wallace
Oak Park

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