Oak Park approves repairs to OPRF garage

Village to spend $370,000 to address deferred maintenance

September 19th, 2017 1:48 PM

By Timothy Inklebarger

Staff Reporter

The Oak Park Board of Trustees on Sept. 18 approved a proposal to spend up to $370,000 for needed repairs to the parking garage used by Oak Park-River Forest High School.

The parking structure, located at 137 N. Scoville Ave., was long debated as a possible location for construction of a multi-million dollar swimming pool for the high school, but the proposal was defeated last year in a referendum vote.

Maintenance on the garage had been deferred for years while administrators worked to get approval to demolish the building.

Monica Sheehan, an Oak Park resident who advocated against the pool proposal, has urged the village over the last year to approve funding the needed maintenance on the garage.

At the village board meeting on Sept. 18, Sheehan asked the village to approve the repairs per its responsibility as outlined in an intergovernmental agreement (IGA) with the District 200 board for upkeep and landscaping.

"Both the village and District 200 school board have been negligent in upholding the responsibilities as outlined in the IGA; we do not live in a disposable society," she said. "It is unacceptable to build capital assets and fail to maintain them, yet that is exactly what has occurred."

Sheehan said that the elevator of the garage had been out of order for a year and a half, calling it a "safety and a liability issue."

She said taxpayers expect elected officials to be responsible with public money, and voters rejected a proposal to spend nearly $13 million to tear down the 13-year-old garage to make room for the pool and build a new garage.

"Authorizing $370,000, a fraction of the replacement costs, to address the deferred maintenance of the garage is the fiscally responsible course of action. Wasting $13 million in taxpayer dollars is not," Sheehan said.

The budget item was originally placed on the village board's consent agenda, meaning that it was not scheduled for discussion by board members, but it was placed on the regular agenda for discussion at the request of Trustee Dan Moroney.

"I just felt that in light of the high-profile nature of the issue a year ago with this garage and its future, it deserved more of a public discussion," he said.

Moroney said his yes vote on the repair funds represents "a clear commitment to this garage through 2028."

Moroney added that it would not make financial sense to repair the garage and then tear it down between now and 2028.

He added that "this garage is very expensive," noting that the village still owes $1.6 million on the principle of the bond used to build the garage and $160,000 in remaining interest payments.

The revenue from the garage has averaged $8,500 a year over the last three years, he said.

"I definitely would be interested in looking at innovative ways we could increase this revenue," he said. "I don't know if they exist, but if that's raising fees or upping enforcement or looking into installing a gate on the garage."

Trustee Deno Andrews echoed Moroney's statement, saying it's time to repair the garage. 

"It's an accessibility issue; it's a public safety issue," he said. "It's also just below our standards."

Andrews added that the garage has problems with accessibility. Andrews, who has a high school-age daughter, said he's been stuck in the garage for more than 30 minutes twice in a month.

"When there's a high school event and the garage is full, there's only one way out, and getting out onto Lake Street is very difficult," he said, adding that the village should try to figure out how to mitigate exit times at the garage.