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Mayor proposes expanding Green

(From March 1, 2012)

Oak Lawn may expand its Village Green by 40,000 square feet if trustees approve a proposal that would include relocating the Masonic Temple just east of the downtown park.

The Village Board on Tuesday discussed the temple's owner's plans to construct a new building that would replace the one at 9420 S. 52nd Ave. The owners agreed three years ago to build a new temple, and construction could begin this year just south of Village Hall on the site of the village's old family services building, according to Oak Lawn Mayor Dave Heilmann.

The village would acquire the old family services site and contribute $875,000 toward the construction of the new temple, Heilmann explained. The temple owners would in exchange cede their property to Oak Lawn. The mayor is hopeful the new temple can be completed by 2013.

The Village Green, a narrow strip of parkland east of Village Hall and north of the Oak Lawn Public Library between Raymond Avenue and the Masonic Temple parking lot, would be extended east to 52nd Avenue. The Green features a walking path, gazebo and playground, and is a venue for numerous events including Santa on the Green Fall on the Green, Pumpkin Fest, summer concerts, a farmers market and the village's annual Easter egg hunt.

"The Village Green is widely used, and this is one part of many discussions regarding potential improvements to the village green," Heilmann said. "We have a whole series of events there, especially in the warmer months. It has become very popular for residents and their families."

Trustee Alex Olejniczak made a motion to table the plan, which was scheduled to be voted on Tuesday, after residents had a chance to voice their concerns and ideas.

"I am concerned about how this will affect people in the neighborhood," Olejniczak said, noting residents in the area near the Green already have plenty of festivals and other events in the neighborhood, and may not want to deal with construction.

"The residents put up with fests and activities. This is not the right time to make a decision."

Heilmann called the plans to expand the Village Green a "great opportunity."

"In a 'land-locked' community like Oak Lawn, I think that when you have property contiguous to village property or green space, like the Masonic Temple is, and you have the ability to expand the green space use through an amicable agreement with people, you can enhance the property but also make the neighborhood nicer," Heilmann said. "Studies show investments in parks and making them destinations and popular centers for your community, you can really provide a terrific benefit to a neighborhood as well as the entire community."

Heilmann envisions the expanded park as even more of a gathering place for Oak Lawn residents and their families.

"There is an entire rendering that has been done with various possibilities," Heilmann said. "We could have a brand-new band shell, a new park facility or field house, even potentially an outdoor ice skating rink and a jet fountain area. We really want to make it a destination."