The Park District of Oak Park has taken a big step forward in its quest to build the new Community Recreation Center, but a fundraising campaign continues to seek approximately $5 million needed to meet the $22 million goal of the project.
Nearly two years after launching a fundraising campaign in 2020, on March 19, PDOP held a groundbreaking ceremony for the proposed center, which will be located at 229 Madison Street.
“I think it’s going to be a real game-changer,” PDOP executive director Jan Arnold said in an interview after the ceremony. “The facility is going to have amenities that we cannot currently offer our residents.”
Arnold said plans remain in place for a center with activities for people of all ages, including a fitness center, esports rooms, two community rooms, a multipurpose room, a children’s play area, a group fitness room, two full basketball courts that divide into four short courts, and a three-lane walking/running track.
In addition, the Community Mental Health Board will have its offices there, with four office suites.
“We think creating this space as it’s been labeled will be an opportunity for us to engage everyone in our community and that’s what’s most exciting,” Arnold said.
The first shovels may have hit the ground, but the Parks Foundation of Oak Park, the nonprofit leading the campaign, said fundraising is continuing in the campaign, titled ‘A Place to Belong’ .
Arnold described the project as a “public/private” partnership with contributions from the Village of Oak Park and a grant from the Illinois Clean Energy Foundation mixed with large donations from select Oak Park individuals as well as a program paving, in which people who donate a certain amount of money will get their inscriptions engraved on paving stones outside the building.
Edward Kerros, the foundation’s vice president and chief development officer, said the organization has reached about 78% of its fundraising goal of $22 million.
“We are excited about the growing interest within the community and the continued potential donors we are talking to,” Kerros said.
To reach the $22 million goal, Kerros said the organization is applying for other grants and exploring naming rights and sponsorship deals.
“If someone gave us $5 million, we would put their name on the outside of the building,” Kerros joked.
Arnold said the park district board had pledged not to increase taxes for building the facility and operating it, and that the $740,000 in projected annual operating costs would be funded by membership in a fitness program and other programs.
Arnold acknowledged hearing criticism in terms of a lack of transparency about how funds are raised for the project.
She said it had to do with the fact that some of the donations were anonymous.
“We have to respect that and we have to respect the unique way of building a public facility. Running a fundraising campaign is not usually the way these things are done,” Arnold said. “It’s different and maybe that’s why there’s some of the confusion.”
Despite the supply chain crisis, Arnold said all indications still point to a spring 2023 opening for the center.