State sends $500K to park district for rec center

Partnership with Oak Park philanthropists could put building on Madison St.

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By Timothy Inklebarger

Staff Reporter

Oak Park is one step closer to getting a new community recreation center with a $500,000 check from the state of Illinois.

The money comes as a line item in the state's capital budget from the Build Illinois Bond Fund and was advanced by State Rep. La Shawn Ford (D-8th). 

The contribution is a bit of good news for the Park District of Oak Park, which already has $5 million set aside for the estimated $18 million project. 

Bringing the project to fruition could be closer than it appears, however, due to a potential contribution from Oak Park philanthropists Mary Jo and Stephen Schuler.

Mary Jo Schuler said in a telephone interview that they have been in conversations with the park district foundation for about a year on the project. 

"We believe that all families should have access to affordable recreational and fitness opportunities in our community, and that opportunity currently doesn't exist," she said. 

Schuler said part of the charitable contribution could involve the donation of several parcels of land on Madison Street between Harvey and Highland avenues that her family purchased from the village of Oak Park in 2009. 

Those properties are directly across the street from the park district's headquarters. Schuler called it "a logical place for a community recreation center."

"We don't know if that's where it will end up being built; we don't know if the Parks Foundation will achieve a successful capital campaign, but that [site] is a possibility," Schuler said. 

Park District of Oak Park Executive Director Jan Arnold said the Oak Park Parks Foundation is "working with a number of different prospects to bring capital to the table for the project. Arnold said the foundation identified three potential sites in a 2016 feasibility study.

"Ultimately, it comes down to can we find community support to create the funds necessary," Arnold said.

Arnold said the project will be completed without raising taxes or going to referendum.

Diane Stanke, a spokeswoman for the park district, said the public has been asking for a community recreation center for years. She said that in community surveys, residents cited the need for more fitness facilities, a walking path, meeting rooms and gymnasiums, among other amenities a recreation center could offer.

Arnold said the facility would be financially self-sustaining because of revenue generated at the facility for some programming. 

"There would be free access for certain resources and fees for others," she said.

Arnold emphasized that the facility would provide free after-school opportunities for middle school and high school kids. 

"When we say there will be no added tax burden for the residents of Oak Park, the park district board is committed to that," Arnold said.

Arnold thanked Ford for advancing the state's commitment to the project, noting that the money would be returned to the state if the park district is ultimately unable to pull the project together.

She projects the recreation center aim to achieve 75-percent funding commitments before going public with a capital campaign. 

"[The Park Foundation's) process right now is in the quiet portion of a capital campaign to determine its viability," Arnold said, noting that it would be "premature" to say the project is certain to happen.

Ford said he was in full support of the project, calling it a "fantastic idea for Oak Park to have the ability to construct a center for the youth and senior citizens and at the same time have a partnership with the private sector, all the while making sure to protect property taxes."

"Hopefully, it's just the first level of support I'm able to provide," Ford said.

Schuler said she believes the project is an opportunity to provide greater equity to the community. 

"Free after-school programming is a very exciting, important element of this project, and that also inspired us to become involved," Schuler said, adding that it is important that the recreation center be built in a high-density location, making it accessible to middle school and high school students.

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Reader Comments

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Matt Clarke  

Posted: June 26th, 2019 5:19 PM

I would like to nominate Nick's quote as the motto of the message board.

Helen Vogel  

Posted: June 26th, 2019 11:12 AM

Mary- the difference in fees between Downers Grove and OP are most likely due to tax $ support. This facility, like many others in the PD are funded by their users, not by general tax dollars.

Jason Cohen  

Posted: June 26th, 2019 12:27 AM

I swear some people just have to complain about everything that happens in this town. Here we have one of our government entities wanting to build something for the community and is pounding the pavement to have it 75% funded before even looking to get funds from the community and that's simply not good enough because $500k comes from the state. For those that don't know how budgets work that money is being spent no matter what. I don't know about anyone else but if the money is going somewhere anyway I will happily take it. Let's all try to look at what this could mean for the community. We could end up with an awesome community better that's self sustaining for 25% of the total cost. That sure seems like a good deal to me. This is is a great idea and I applaud the Park District for creatively looking at ways to bring this awesome addition to our community.

Mary Pikul  

Posted: June 25th, 2019 11:12 PM

It's good news. I'm happy to hear the Rec Center is still in the plans. An excellent model would be Downers Grove Recreation Center - which is incredible. Definitely (Please!) walk/run lanes indoors. In DG, these are free to use whether you are member or not. DG Open Gym fee is $4.00 resident (and has been for over 10 years) vs. our Open Gym Gymnastics fee @ $12.00 resident! (Budget-buster and why I couldn't afford to take my little one once we moved here. Not right.) ...Wish Austin and Maywood received more. Good for Berwyn. DG Center model:

Nick A Binotti  

Posted: June 25th, 2019 8:15 PM

Other Build Illinois Bond Fund local recipients: Forest Park received $750,000 for the demolition of some buildings on the Altenheim Property. Looks like River Forest came up empty. Broadview got $2 million for a 1.5 mile bike path down 25th Avenue from Roosevelt Road to Salt Creek Bicycle Path. Maywood Public Library got $150,000 to dig a trench. The Austin African American Business Networking Association got $100,000 for building repairs. Berwyn got $1.3 mil for library improvements.

Ellen Edwards  

Posted: June 25th, 2019 5:35 PM

How much did Englewood get? Lawndale? Austin?

Tom Coffman  

Posted: June 25th, 2019 4:32 PM

How much did River Forest and Forest Park get?

Nick A Binotti  

Posted: June 25th, 2019 3:05 PM

There are 2 separate appropriations in the legislation to the PDOP to fund the construction of a community recreation center: $500,000 and $375,000. Are we getting both? In the same legislation, the Oak Park Art League and Frank Lloyd Wright House both received $250,000 for building restorations/renovations.

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: June 25th, 2019 2:29 PM

And its all FREE !!! We got those dumb citizens of Illinois to borrow money they don't have for it. Oh wait, that is us.

Nick Polido  

Posted: June 25th, 2019 2:26 PM

Lets see if I got this right: LaShawn Ford gave us free money from the state state which will run a $440,000,000 deficit this year. Director Arnold says this facility will generate enough fees to be self sufficient and remember create equity. Next up Senator Harmon's fair tax referendum that will lower taxes on 97% of tax payers.

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