River Forest agencies mull Community Center's future

Taxing bodies, nonprofit start talking collaborative options

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By Igor Studenkov

Contributing Reporter

Over the summer, River Forest taxing bodies pledged to work together to find options for more indoor space in the village for recreation and programs. How the River Forest Community Center fits into those options is at the center of the coming discussion.

With a facilitator hired, the initial conversation is imminent. At a meeting of the River Forest Park District on Nov. 12 there was talk of initially focusing the conversation among the park district, the village government, the Community Center/Civic Center Authority, township and Opportunity Knocks, a non-profit which is a notable tenant at the center, 8020 W. Madison St. 

With all parties in agreement that there is a need for additional indoor space, the basic question is how can the community center, a converted textbook company office building, be best used.

In April, the village launched a study of how best to expand the community center. The idea is to either expand the existing building, demolish it and built a larger community center, or build a larger community center somewhere else entirely.  

The River Forest Community Center is a nonprofit organization created in 1975 to provide recreation opportunities for the village. The community center also houses the government offices of River Forest Township.

During the park district board meeting, commissioners and park district Executive Director Michael Sletten agreed to attend a meeting to tackle some of the issues involved. 

And while all taxing bodies have expressed interest in being involved in the planning process, park officials agreed that, ideally, the discussions should be "refocused" around the village, the park district, the community center and Opportunity Knocks.

In a Nov. 2 e-mail sent to all parties, a copy of which was included in Nov. 12 park board meeting packet, consultant Gil Herman wrote that the consensus seems to be that something needs to be done to increase the space and availability of the community center. 

But, he wrote, there were several questions. First and foremost, the organizations need to figure out how much space they would need. With no viable alternative sites available, the existing buildings would either need to be expanded or torn down. 

And, given that a tear-down would mean programs would have to be paused for perhaps two years, expansion seemed like an option that would work best. 

With that in mind, Herman wrote, the parties involved would need to discuss how they would handle soliciting design and construction planning proposals, how the project would be funded, how much say each party would have in how the community center would be run, and "to what extent [it is] desired or required to involve [River Forest] residents in any discussions."

Herman wrote that, while he felt it was important to have the four stakeholders at the table, he was open to bringing other organizations on board.

During the park board meeting, Sletten told the commissioners that River Forest Public Library and River Forest School District 90 were interested in being involved in the process as well. While he didn't mind them being there per se, however, he thought that their input should be secondary.

"[We would] bring this in, and get this back to focus, on just four primary players, having discussion and moving forward," he said.

Ross Roloff, park board president, said he supported the idea of discussions focusing on those four parties, and none of the other commissioners offered any objections.

Park commissioner Lynn Libera volunteered to serve as the board's liaison during future meetings on the topic.

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