Park District Shopping Trip a Success
Aldi property will house either gymnastics or buildings and grounds operations for Oak Park parks.
It has been a long time coming, but soon gymnasts in Oak Park soon will have a place where they can really stretch their legs.
But whether gymnastics programs or buildings and grounds operations will move in to the long-vacant Aldi site, which just has been purchased by the Park District of Oak Park, will not be known until fall.
The park board Thursday authorized plunking down $980,000 to buy the 27,000 square foot facility at 25 W. Lake St., just across Humphrey Avenue from Stevenson Park.
The long-shuttered building is the first land purchased by the Park District for expansion since 2008 and is within the District budget parameters, park district officials said. And it will help the park district resolve a space problem dating back at least to 2002, said Gary Balling, the park district’s executive director.
“This is a real opportunity to create solutions for these space constraints allowing the District to better serve our residents,” said Marty Bracco, president of the park board.
Balling said a large part of the discussion about what exactly to do with the property will begin in September. An environmental assessment also would need to be done, he added.
After that the park board will decide which program — gymnastics or buildings and ground operations — will stay put or move to Lake Street.
In either case, a substantial amount of renovation will need to take place, Balling said. Those cost estimates were immediately available, but district officials say there's enough money in the capital improvement budget to do the work.
“We’re pleased the way this is coming along,” Balling said.
Gymnastics, buildings and grounds operations, park district administrative offices and a common area all are housed in the 17,000 square-feet of the Hedges Administrative Center, 218 Madison St., the site of a former car dealership.
And for years it was clear that there was a shortage of space. A capital improvement study undertaken in 2002 noted that gymnastics and operations required additional space in three to five years. A Facility Space Study of the center in 2006 laid out concerns over the space constraints there. Money had been an obstacle, park district officials said.
Approximately 6,682 square feet at the center is used by all five gymnastics programs. About 1,400 youngsters take part in programs each session, and the waiting list averages between 100 and 200 students each season. One of the myriad of issues related to space is that students who reach a certain skill level cannot be accommodated there any longer, Balling said. A proposed program expansion had been developed while officials performed master plans for a number of other facilities.
Buildings and grounds operations are housed in a separate 6,369 square feet, and that office is challenged by insufficient space for equipment, vehicles, bulk materials and supplies for daily park maintenance, officials said.
Three people also work out of a small office. With a larger office, the district can centralize its operations and buy more materials in bulk, Balling said.
A Long Look
Balling said the park district began looking at the Aldi site in April, but also examined other buildings over the last several years including buildings that housed Foley Rice Cadillac, 711 Madison St. and Shepherd Motors, 206 Madison St. He said they also looked at the Comcast property, 820-832 Madison, but there was not enough space on one level.
(The Comcast property would have a different fate. It's now slated to become affordable housing.)
Parking, its adjacent to another park district facility and the price made Aldi an attractive purchase, Balling said.