D97, Park District Propose New Shared-Services Building Behind Village Hall
The proposal to transition locations, vacating two buildings and erecting another, was presented to the Oak Park Village Board on Monday night as a “win-win-win-win-win.”
A new collaborative proposal from Oak Park Elementary School District 97 and the Park District of Oak Park to build a joint administrative facility atop the parking lot south of the Oak Park Village Hall was presented to the Village Board of Trustees on Monday, with the Districts pledging an overall benefit to taxpayers and to the Village.
The concept, which the presenters freely acknowledged is still rough and relatively broad at this point, would move D97 and Park District administrative services to the new building, freeing up the current locations at 970 Madison St. and 218 Madison St. for sale and relocating their Buildings and Grounds departments as well as Village Public Works. (See graphic to the right for all proposed location swaps.)
Both D97 and Park District staff contended that those current administrative buildings on Madison are in poor shape and require millions of dollars worth of repairs and remodeling in the next year or two. Their suggestion is that the money would be better spent investing for the future in a new building.
“This seemed like a really good idea,” said D97 Board president Peter Barber. “As we’ve looked at this so far, it makes perfect sense to us, [for] all of the financial reasons, all of the efficiency reasons—but I think most importantly, the citizens have continued to tell us that we all need to work together more, we have to find ways of being more efficient.”
The two Districts argue their plan would have myriad other benefits as well. Consolidating more government services to two adjacent buildings would allow for more space-sharing and provide residents with a “one-stop shopping” location. Two buildings on the Madison Street corridor would be placed back on Village tax rolls and opened for potential businesses. And the agreement might set a precedent for future inter-agency cooperation.
“We’re looking for this to be a win-win-win-win-win type of situation for everyone, not just the three governmental bodies involved, but the community as well,” said Park District Board president Christine Graves. (D97 superintendent Dr. Al Roberts and Park District executive director Jan Arnold also endorse the idea.)
District 97 and the Park District began collaborating on the proposal in the spring on the advice of D97’s Facilities Advisory Committee, which considered multiple potential locations for a new building before settling on the parking lot.
The estimated cost of between $6 million and $10 million for a new building there would be covered by the money the Districts would have otherwise put into their renovations (over $3 million), by the sale of the vacated lots and by some portion of the $6.3 million that D97 is set to receive this year from the Madison Street TIF fund.
D97 also noted that using that $6.3 million for direct educational purposes would result in a corresponding $3.15 million loss in state aid, and emphasized that no money from the Education Fund or from last April’s referendum would be put towards the project. (Nor would the small green meadow south of the lot be built on or paved over.)
Barber and Graves acknowledged before the Board that their plan is still in its earliest stages, and presents several issues that would have to be worked out in detail—perhaps thorniest, the loss of existing parking combined with a new demand for it. (One potential option, albeit expensive: expanding the underground parking beneath Village Hall, currently used only by the Oak Park Police Department.)
At Monday night’s Board meeting, they did accomplish what they were seeking: approval from the Board of Trustees to investigate their options in conjunction with the Village of Oak Park.
But some trustees expressed a few reservations. Trustee Colette Lueck warned against becoming too overly-attached to the concept to discard it should it prove infeasible, and said the “architectural significance” of Village Hall should not be diminished by an inferior neighbor.
Lueck also pointed out that, “putting two buildings on the tax roll is a positive for Madison if they sell; if they don’t, it’s a negative… What’s the likelihood that those buildings actually will sell, given what’s already sitting on Madison Street that isn’t selling?”
Eventually, however, the vote was unanimous to allow the Districts “to further explore the possibilities” of the proposed plan.
“It’s a very interesting potential opportunity,” said Village president David Pope. “If there [is] an opportunity to make this work… it sounds like it has some real potential. We appreciate your work.”
The Districts say they are extremely interested in having an engaged “community-wide discussion” about their plan, and have tentatively scheduled a first public forum for Sept. 19. More information about the forum will be forthcoming.