Say Yes to a new civic center

Opinion: Columns

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Les Golden

I lachrymosely read the news about District 97 and the park district considering joint office space in the parking lot behind village hall. More than 20 years ago, the late Oak Leaves writer Charlotte Cooper referred to my non-stop lobbying for eradication of duplication of government services as a means toward efficiency and tax relief.

The various proposals I made over the decades include bundling of newsletters, consolidation of D97 and District 200, dissolution of the library, park district, and township as separate taxing districts, construction of a park district/D200 athletic field over the OPRF High School parking lot, and placing D97, park district, and township offices together in a building behind village hall to aid communication and free their properties on Madison Street and Oak Park Avenue for commercial development and property and sales tax generation.

I was happy that years ago the library bundled its newsletter with that of the village. In the most recent village newsletter, I see that D97 and D200 now include their news notes with those of the village and library. I suggest the park district and township also ask to come aboard.

The news, however, that with Jan Arnold at the helm, the park district and D97 now find the parking lot office space viable for what we should call our "civic center" is a major advance in efficiency and tax relief. Both the park district and D97 are heavily vested in children's programs. A brief perusal of their programs, however, indicate duplication of efforts. Now, with offices literally down the hall, such inefficiencies will be reduced.

The problem they confront is parking. I have always proposed that the offices be built on stilts over the parking lot. This allows retention of the parking lot and removes the need for snow shoveling and repaving, saving additional, although modest, taxpayer money. A pedway between the current village hall and the new structure would facilitate communication between all three units of government.

It is now up to Oak Park Township head David Boulanger to contact D97 and the park district and, to reverse the ever-expanding non-tax-generating blueprint of the township on our central business district, ask to be a partner in the new civic center. They, too, have a sizable offering of youth programs. They, too, should be housed with D97 and the park district. The library should also move their offices to the civic center.

As cooperation evolves, the nonsensical, inefficient, and wasteful existence of separate library, park district, and township governments will become obvious and these units of government could be absorbed, their programs intact, by the village.

Then, D97 and D200 should begin consolidation discussions, following the efforts of myself and Sharon Patchak-Layman a decade or so ago. (State law allows such consolidation even though D200 includes residents of River Forest.)

After that, with a glorious civic center at the east end of the village, the village can take up our formal proposal, presented since 1984 and in its fourth incarnation in 2009, for a fine and performing arts/cultural and conference center in the context of a restaurant/retail park at South Blvd and Harlem. This would become the focus point for our cultural life, at the west end of the village.

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Reader Comments

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Posted: October 7th, 2012 10:58 PM

Just say No to less. Moore- roger that is. Whos on first..No hes on second

Bruce Samuels from Oak Park  

Posted: October 7th, 2012 4:43 PM

Trees have come and gone on the parking lot and presently there are four. I appreciate commercial emphasis on Madison but several properties have remained vacant since before the recession. We don't want further encroachment of non-residential buildings south of Madison, especially when several buildings on Madison can be repurposed. Take the money and do that and co-locate governments in one of those empty buildings on Madison. That's the greenest approach!

Les from Oak Park  

Posted: October 5th, 2012 7:39 PM

I appreciate the sincere and genuine comments. Dale, terms of the consolidation would, I hope, ensure that RF residents are not additionally taxed. RF, itself, could join the consolidation, and demand such assurances. Butch, I still believe that the decisions of government are influenced, if not made, at the water cooler. Brent, I know you're kidding, but no trees exist on the parking lot. Retaining the parking lot, in fact, ensures that all that asphalt is not put into a landfill.

Brent Borgerson from Oak Park  

Posted: October 4th, 2012 7:54 PM

How many trees are we losing on this project?

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: October 4th, 2012 1:45 PM

Les - your arguments are well stated but the proposed consolidation of all administrative buildings at village hall is based on a premise that might have been valid in the 1990's, but make little sense in the 2010's. The age of instant electronic communications has changed where we all do business. Consolidation of facilities has always been viewed as a step to improve communication, when in actuality it is a cost savings method. If the taxing bodies are not communicating when they are all within a mile and a half away from each other, why would putting them all in the same location improve communication and enhance cooperation? Remember, just because you put the king and queen in a castle does not mean that they talk to each other. OP cooperation is not based on physical proximity, it is based on the breaking down of historical, and self-focused fiefdoms. CEO's of the taxing bodies should be charged with acting cooperatively to save taxpayers funds, should be annually evaluated on how much money is saved through cooperation, and all board should make cooperative efforts (and results) a significant factor in performance evaluations (and raises). With challenging budgets in almost all taxing bodies, simple solutions are needed, rather than new castles.

Dale Jones from River Forest  

Posted: October 3rd, 2012 2:59 PM

I want to comment on the idea Les put forth about combining D200 and D97. It seems that most people in OP seem to forget that the RF in OPRF stands for River Forest. The last figures I saw showed, RF residents contribute 25% of the residential tax revenue for D200, but only about 19% of the students come from RF. The result is a subsidy by RF for OP to educate their students in grades 9-12. Combining D200 and D97 would result in a tax increase for RF taxpayers to educate OP grades K-8.

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