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Oak Park takes next step toward police station upgrade

New construction or renovation both come with $40M-plus cost

February 21st, 2020 9:00 AM

By Stacey Sheridan

Staff Reporter

There was wide agreement Tuesday on Oak Park's village board that the current police station, housed in the basement of village hall on Madison Street, is obsolete, overcrowded and, in many ways, an unhealthy work environment. By a 6-1 vote, the board agreed to move from last fall's study of potential space needs for the police department to spending $322,600 to fund architectural proposals for three options to remake the department's space.

  • A full renovation of the current 35,000 square foot facility
  • Renovation and an expansion of the facility
  • A new police station at an undetermined site

The space study undertaken by FGM Architects in 2019 concluded the department would need 78,000 square feet to operate efficiently and to solve current police safety issues.

In its presentation to the village board, FGM representatives estimated that renovating and expanding the current space would cost between $41 and $44 million. Building a new police station off site would cost between $42 and $45 million. That does not include the cost of a suitable piece of land, said Village Manager Cara Pavlicek. 

Land purchase would add to the cost, "unless someone wanted to give us land," said Pavlicek. "Anything's possible."

The village manager could not give an estimate of what the entire project would cost also noting that the village board would need to decide how environmentally sustainable it would expect the police station to be.

"Right now, the only thing the board has committed to is the $322,600 and they've already spent $53,000 to get the space needs assessment," Pavlicek said. "We're really early in this journey and I think it's impossible for me to say, 'Here's an approximate project cost,' because I don't know what they board will do."

Pavlicek said the village's finance department would strategize to find the best fiscal approach to fund the project. "We know we cannot do this and create a tax burden," she said. "We will work to give the board options to meet what their goals are in a fiscally responsible manner."

Police Chief LaDon Reynolds, and multiple of his predecessors, have argued that the current facility has been outdated for decades. Located in the basement of village hall at Madison Street and Lombard Avenue, the police station has hardly changed since its 1975 construction as part of a statement-making village hall complex.

"Policing is a lot different than it was 40 years ago when the structure downstairs was built," Reynolds said. "As far as moving the police department forward into the 21st century, I think it's imperative that we plan for the future," said Reynolds in his presentation to the board. "FGM identified some very serious life safety issues downstairs in the basement." 

Back in November, Louise Kowalczyk of FGM Architects dubbed the police station an "unhealthy environment." FGM presented four possible options regarding the police station: leave it as is, renovate the station, build a completely new facility or renovate and add onto the current station. The firm recommended that the village build a new facility or renovate and add onto the old one.

At the Feb. 18 meeting, Trustee Deno Andrews readily gave his support for the agreement with FGM, saying, "I look forward to their expertise to help us decide what is in the best interest of the village in a new, modernized or fixed up police facility."

Citing the current station's health and safety issues, Trustee Jim Taglia gave his support as well. "It's a serious situation," he said. "I'm ready to move forward."

Trustee Susan Buchanan called the current state of the police station "appalling in terms of health and safety of the workers and the dignity of detainees."

Outside of her work as a village trustee, Dr. Buchanan is associate director of the Occupational and Environmental Medicine Residency Program at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Trustee Dan Moroney also gave his support but told Reynolds to employ fiscal restraint when possible.

Arti Walker-Peddakotla was the sole board member not in favor of improving police facilities. "I can't in good conscience vote affirmatively on this item," she said.

Walker-Peddakotla believes the funding going toward the police station should go toward something that would benefit the youth of Oak Park.

"I don't think one negates the other," said Trustee Simone Boutet. "I think we need to do both."

Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb said the health issues within the station "required the village to move with a sense of urgency."

In a 6-1 vote, the board approved entering the design agreement but made no decisions regarding which route to take in upgrading police facilities, nor have any renderings been created.

Pavlicek said the board will not make any major decisions quickly. "They're not going to in one day say, 'Go build this,'" Pavlicek said.

The board will have public discussions with the architect firm and the police department to identify the biggest areas of concern and receive more pinpointed cost estimates.

"The village board is going to schedule a public meeting in the next 45 days and at that meeting, they will have a conversation with the architect about options to address, space needs in the police facility and review in detail the space needs assessment," said  Pavlicek. "I would hope after that public meeting, the board would provide staff some consensus of what they want further information on," Pavlicek said.

Antiquated and cramped, the station poses risks to health and safety for both officers and detainees. While the detainment cells contain some anti-ligature features, there are still elements that hinder suicide prevention.

The windowless station also has inadequate space to transfer detainees and its sally port doubles as storage. The entry to the booking room has stairs, a tripping hazard. The booking room itself is narrow and cramped, making it difficult for officers to safely restrain detainees.

The current station has insubstantial room to hold evidence. The police lockers cannot store all the equipment officers are required to have. The station also has major accessibility problems. The building has poor airflow with inefficient heating and cooling.

Pavlicek expects the village will have planning information in the next six months, but a big part of the discussion with the architect will be spent talking about financial capacity.

Those interested can view the results of the space needs assessment on the village website. The communications staff plans to post a video for public to see what the station looks like. In-person tours of the police station are also available.

What's most important, Pavlicek said, is the board is making progress in addressing the police station's condition.

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