A popular Oak Park facility will get a major makeover, although it's not the grand, sweeping overhaul that's been discussed.
The board arrived at their decision to renovate on Thursday, unanimously voting on a plan that will improve portions of the facility at 415 Lake Street instead of tearing it down and starting over.
“The Park Board is committed to pursuing the mission of the Park District. We have listened to our community and developed a plan that best meets their recreational needs,” said Park Board President Marty Bracco said in a news release. “We look forward to moving forward with this project and providing a facility to be enjoyed by our residents for the next 50 years.”
Here's a look at the initial changes:
- The substantial changes will be in the center itself. The building will be one-story instead of two. Donald McKay, a design director with Nagle Hartray Architecture said the interior will be reconfigured to become more user-friendly: Visitors will walk through the vestibule and enter a large lobby, service desks will be easier to find, two activity rooms will be added and a third, smaller conference room will be available for staff and public meetings.
- The pool will get upgrades, although they'll largely be invisible to patrons. Officials say "most of the pool mechanicals will be replaced," but the shell of the pool will remain.
- A children's "water feature" will be added.
- The ice rink will be greatly altered. First, it would expand to 200-by-85 feet from 185-by-85 feet. And the ice sheet would be three feet below grade — the result will look like it’s been built into the site, McKay said. And the area will be enclosed by glass. At this point, it's unclear if the renovated ice rink will be open year-round.
District officials say they're planning to host a community forum and Q & A session to discuss the changes. While a date for that session hasn't been set, officials say they're aiming to have it before the Thanksgiving holiday.
Diane Stanke, a spokeswoman for the park district, said future improvements to the facility, like the installation of synthetic turf at the ballfields, aren't part of the initial funding but could take place if the district's affiliate groups — sports clubs which use the facility — are willing to kick in funding.
To pay for the renovations, the board will issue $30 million in bonds, with the brunt of the borrowing, some $23 million, going toward improvements at Ridgeland Common. The remaining will pay for improvements at the district's gymnastics center, which could stay put at the Hedges Administrative Center, 218 Madison St., or move to 25 Lake Street, the vacant Aldi building recently purchased by the district.
The need for renovations and repairs at Ridgeland Common hasn't come as a surprise to patrons or district employees. In 2007, district officials undertook a large study looking at Ridgeland Common's safety, security and code compliance. The result? Renovations would be necessary within five years.
In 2008, during a master plan process, three proposals were presented. All proved too costly. The most expensive, the so-called visionary plan with such amenities as a gymnasium and running track, garden roof, indoor teaching pool and a competition pool and studio ice rink, was estimated to cost at least $90 million.
Two years later, a community attitude and interest survey showed that a majority of Oak Parkers wanted the district to repair and maintain the existing building.