Oak Park considers $200K to study new police station

Capital Improvement Plan budget includes $27 million in projects

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By Timothy Inklebarger

Staff Reporter

The Oak Park Police Department, located in the basement of Village Hall, is outdated, overcrowded and unsuitable for a modern police force, according to Oak Park trustees.

Now the village is considering spending up to $200,000 on a study to determine if the village should build a new station or rehab the existing one.

The item has been included in the village's so-called Capital Improvement Plan (CIP), a five-year plan for various capital projects that is now being considered by the Oak Park Board of Trustees.

The entire CIP includes dozens of potential projects that top $27 million over the next five years, but approval of the plan, which is expected to come sometime in early October, is simply that – a plan that lays out proposed projects the village aims to pursue.

The $200,000 for the feasibility study in 2018 could be less or could be more if the project is approved and put out to public bid. The proposal also includes a tentative $15 million to build the police station in 2019.

Village Manager Cara Pavlicek said in a telephone interview that this is the third year the board of trustees has been asked to approve a five-year capital improvement plan, which covers everything from street and alley repairs to deferred maintenance of police and fire stations.

She said the dollar amounts connected to items in the CIP aren't exact numbers "because we haven't designed those projects or taken bids."

Pavlicek said that in years past, village boards and staff did not engage in creating such a "robust, formal document … approved in a public process."

She said the five-year plan helps give residents an idea when alleys and streets will be repaired, for example.

"It's nice to have a plan that says, 'Alright, unless something changes this is when we anticipate doing this,'" she said.

Pavlicek said the current police station "is not serving the function it is intended to" noting that, among other problems, the shooting range is not functioning.

Oak Park Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb, who has spoken publicly about building a new police department for years, said the current police department is "lacking." When considering capital projects, there are wants and there are needs, Abu-Taleb said.

"In my view, this doesn't belong in the 'want' column; this belongs in the 'need' column," he said.

Building a new station is important in attracting top law enforcement talent, he said, and sending a message that the village supports the police department in its mission of keeping the community safe.

"We need to show our police department and our police officers that they deserve to work in a facility where they can store their belongings, have a training facility, and when someone is taken into custody they are given the proper entry," he said.

Trustee Dan Moroney, who recently toured the police station with Trustee Deno Andrews, called the facility "inadequate."

Housing the police department in the basement of Village Hall fails to give police "the presence they deserve to fully serve the community," Moroney said.

Moroney, who has promised to hold the line on unnecessary spending in the village, acknowledged that spending upwards of $15 million on a new police station could be a tough sell with the residents already straddled with an increasing tax burden.

"I think this is Oak Park, and it's going to be controversial no matter what," he said. "Everyone's going to have their own opinion, but I've heard repeatedly, and I tend to agree, that safety is number one. If we do not have a sense of safety in this community, that every corner of this village is a safe place to live, if we start to lose that, things change dramatically."

Moroney also says building a new station on Madison Street could be an economic driver for the commercial corridor.

Trustee Andrews said the existing police station is "well below our standards as Oak Parkers."

He said that after the recent tour of the station, "I wouldn't have anybody working down there."

"I want to see the police in a more suitable location," he said.

He said the officers work in cramped quarters and the station has no windows.

"They're all doing a fantastic job in that environment, but it's clear that the records room is bursting at the seams," he said. "Also, the laboratory to process evidence – it looks like a 50-year-old kitchen. Everything is old and it's embarrassing. It's not a state-of-the-art evidence lab."

He said the projected $200,000 is likely enough for a specialist to assess the needs of the department and the potential for building a new station.

"I don't think a new building is going to make Oak Park safer, but having a more efficient workspace and a more suitable and efficient evidence room … it just creates efficiencies.

"If you were to go downstairs and look at the evidence room – it's stacked floor to ceiling with evidence; there's just very little room to operate. At some point it seems like a detriment to how evidence is handled."

Trustee Bob Tucker echoed his colleagues' thoughts on the inadequacy of the police department, noting that "it's not an optimal station for modern policing."

"We recognize that a brand new stand-alone police station is going to be a big-ticket item and have a financial impact," he said, but Tucker added that "public safety has to be first and foremost in Oak Park."

"We need to make sure police officers and firefighters have the tools they need to make citizens safe," he said.

Neither Oak Park Police Chief Anthony Ambrose nor Trustee Jim Taglia could immediately be reached for comment. Trustees Simone Boutet and Andrea Button did not return a call requesting an interview. 

CONTACT: tim@oakpark.com

Reader Comments

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Barbara Joan  

Posted: September 27th, 2017 12:34 PM

No studies are needed to determine what is needed; corporate welfare thrives in Oak Park.

Ramona Lopez  

Posted: September 27th, 2017 12:11 PM

Doesn't the village employ an urban planner who could do this work as part of their regular job? If they want some long fancy wordsmithed report to justify a new police station, I'll do it for $25K and be done in a month.

Ramona Lopez  

Posted: September 27th, 2017 12:09 PM

Our police in Oak Park do excellent work and should have better facilities. It seems that Oak Park loves using "consultants' as a scapegoat. If the project is a bust and goes over budget, they've spent $200,000 to push the blame on someone else.

Brian Slowiak  

Posted: September 27th, 2017 3:35 AM

Before anyone does anything, pull all the old plans and comments for the facility when the facility was being built and find out what and how things went wrong. Who in government knew the short comings of the new facility and who did what and why to push the short comings through? A windowless underground police station is needed to prevent escapes, and protect against bombings. The Evidence Room is in fact a big large locked windowless storage room where evidence cant be removed without being noticed. Only person operates in The Evidence Room.When was the last audit of the Evidence Room to determine what is not needed to be kept? What is under the rest of the basement of the building? Poke a stairwell from the basement to the ground floor of the Hall. Move Hall offices up stairs and PD upper management to the ground floor with glass partitions. See upper management at work leading the police department. Training doesnt take place every day. Ask every police officer for their choice, a new building, a remodeled building or a fully funded police pension fund

Dave Slade from Oak Park  

Posted: September 26th, 2017 4:22 PM

And the blank check for this project begins.

Jon Hale  

Posted: September 26th, 2017 3:14 PM

When the Village is looking at an investment of $15 million, it is fiscally prudent to spend 1.5% of that amount on a careful study of whether it's feasible to rehab the existing space vs. build new somewhere else.

Ray Simpson  

Posted: September 26th, 2017 8:40 AM

The station should be built near the center of town, like Madison and Lombard. Oh wait that is where it is now. We should also build a longer term "lock up" where we can hold prisoners long enough that we can thumb our noses at ICE and turn bad people back onto our streets. That would show the world that we are truly "better people" with our sanctuary city status. How about the turned down Taco Bell location, at least the police department doesn't have a drive through. A lot more vehicle traffic 24/7, but, not a drive through. We might even have a curb side parking ticket payment window - oh wait that might qualify as a drive thru and we sure don't want that!

Marty Bernstein  

Posted: September 25th, 2017 10:22 PM

Get the money from D97.

Bill Dwyer  

Posted: September 25th, 2017 9:24 PM

Would be too ironic is Steve's suggestion was followed by the village, since they purchased and demolished an old car dealership at Madison and Lombard in the early 70s to build the new village hall and police station.

Mark Ruehl from Oak Park  

Posted: September 25th, 2017 7:51 PM

The Albion project might help pay for it.

Christine Vernon  

Posted: September 25th, 2017 7:04 PM

Like David Gulbransen articulates so well in the first comment, "$200k study to determine this?" ... if everyone is in agreement that the station is inadequate, don't *waste* 200k for a consultant to tell you... it's... inadequate! Get on with figuring out how to pay for the new station." The idea that our law enforcement officers should be kept in the dark in a basement, reminds me of that old joke about being treated like a mushroom. Let's honor the work of the brave men and women who work to keep the community safe, put that $200,000 into continuing sensitivity training that always seemed to serve the community so well. I think the fact that the trustees are even thinking they don't have support for this must be their startle reflex from having so much opposition to The Albion Project! I think most people in Oak Park would agree that we need to have a proper police department and no one should have to work in rooms where there is no sunlight and no windows if we can help it. There will be other good uses for that lower level but let's elevate the quarters of the policemen and women!

Steve Kelley from Oak Park  

Posted: September 25th, 2017 6:45 PM

... and I am an architectural consultant, but I only live a few blocks away.

Al Rossell  

Posted: September 25th, 2017 6:45 PM

Why does it always cost so much for a "consultant"? They don't need to do much. An architect could tell you how much to renovate and how much to build new and you would already have the plans.

Steve Kelley from Oak Park  

Posted: September 25th, 2017 6:44 PM

My vote is to rehab the abandoned car dealership on the northwest corner of Madison and Wesley. They can even park their vehicles inside.

Bernie Pitzel  

Posted: September 25th, 2017 6:26 PM

I would suggest the powers- that-be read Tim's article and put the $200,000 into building a new station. Or if they are determined to just throw more money away they could give me the $200,000 and I'll tell them what they already know

Jack Davidson  

Posted: September 25th, 2017 5:47 PM

Our residents are at their threshold of tolerance on tax increases, especially fixed-income residents. If we can find a way to conduct this study AND pay for the station refurbishments WITHOUT coming back to taxpayers with more referenda to offset the expense, I'm all for this. In other words, toleration for the "easy button" by our elected officials has ended. It's time for you to put your thinking caps on and figure out how to create a self-sustaining revenue stream to offset the expense BEFORE contracts are issued and money is spent.

Andrea Lee from Oak Park  

Posted: September 22nd, 2017 8:59 PM

I love having the police station located in Village Hall. It communicates that policing is a public benefit for the protection of and paid for by its residents, when so much evidence says otherwise. It normalizes interactions between the police and residents. As for the cost of the study -- maybe that cost is warranted. We would need to understand the data to be gathered and analyzed and the hours and expertise needed to do so. Making informed decisions is not a bad thing.

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: September 22nd, 2017 8:16 PM

If a cop needs a window stick him in a patrol car and have him drive around town and look out the patrol car window. Plenty of us feel absolutely no embarrassment over this issue, the current basement is fine. Lets get real people, this spending $200k on some salesman/consultant and then $15 million for a building and then $X more for who knows what next they will dream up is a joke except its coming out of our pockets.

Jim Major from Oak Park  

Posted: September 22nd, 2017 5:05 PM

Fantastic news! Let's build the very best police station possible for our top notch police department.

Ray Simpson  

Posted: September 22nd, 2017 4:50 PM

We always joked that an expensive consultant was a guy 50 miles from home with a brief case. A REAL EXPENSIVE consultant was the same guy 100 miles from home.

Alice Wellington  

Posted: September 22nd, 2017 4:31 PM

If the trustees already agree that the police station is needed, then they should save $200K and find a suitable location for it. Why waste money on consultants?

David Gulbransen  

Posted: September 22nd, 2017 4:06 PM

Really?? It takes a $200k study to determine this? Call me incredulous. I mean, if everyone is in agreement that the station is inadequate, don't *waste* 200k for a consultant to tell you... it's... inadequate! Get on with figuring out how to pay for the new station.

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