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Park Board Suspends Consideration of Shared Facility at Village Hall

Decision, shared with District 97 and village officials, does not rule out consideration of other options at some point.

The Park District of Oak Park has suspended exploring a shared administrative facility with Elementary District 97 in a village hall parking lot, officials said Friday.

That doesn't rule out the possibility of looking at another location for a shared administrative facility with the elementary system, park district officials said.

The park board had a heart-to-heart on the direction it wanted to go with this site and weighed the potential benefits and challenges of the village lot, said Jan Arnold, the park district's executive director.

"They felt it was not the right fit for them to move forward at this time," Arnold said.

The announcement follows a discussion during an executive session at the Nov. 15 Park Board meeting, according to a news release issued by park district officials late Friday afternoon.

The park board thoroughly studied and discussed the potential benefits and challenges of the proposal, said Park Board President Christine Graves.

“Our job is to look at all options when working to provide the best services, parks and recreation facilities for Oak Park residents. We studied the shared facility proposal and listened to public questions and comments. After thoughtful consideration, we have decided to withdraw our involvement in this proposal,” she said.  

While surprised by the park district’s decision, especially with the Village’s
financial analysis still pending, District 97 officials said they respected its position and thanked its board and administration for the time, effort
and energy they invested in the exploration of this proposal.

"We always stated that this partnership could only be successful if everyone involved believed that the pursuit of this endeavor served the best interests of the citizens of Oak Park," district officials said in a statement. "Although we still contend that the construction of a joint facility on the parking lot at
Village Hall would achieve this goal, we realize it is a belief we no longer share with our close friend and ally."

Graves added that while this proposed project isn’t the right fit for the park district, it is always interested in exploring opportunities that could benefit village residents with improved services and taxpayer savings.

“We continue to be open to collaborating with all governmental entities to benefit our community,” Graves said.

The project has been the topic of conversation on and off for some time, and with the park district and school district looking at spending a total of $3 million to renovate their own buildings, the idea of building one facility made sense.

Officials from both entities said it would save costs and increase opportunities to collaborate more. They added that it would be in line with the Madison Street Plan and contribute to the growth of local business by putting two government buildings back on the tax rolls. 

But residents along the 500 and 600 blocks of South Lombard Avenue didn't buy it. During a public forum on the project, residents said the notion that traffic flow would improve was ridiculous. With all of the little children on the street, traffic could become more dangerous, they implied. The term race track came up more than once in the discussion.

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