Written by Bob Rakow
Mayor’s critics claim plans for Oak Lawn’s
new Senior Center have not been shared
Oak Lawn Mayor Sandra Bury strongly supports
Is it in the cards that the Oak Lawn Senior Center is moving? Oak Lawn’s Josephine Voldrich, playing cards Tuesday at the current site, said she hopes so. Photos by Jeff Vorva. transitioning the village’s senior services to the park district, but two of her political opponents are asking her to lay her cards on the table before proceeding with the plan.
Trustee Carol Quinlan said seniors queried her at a recent event about the proposal but she was unable to offer specifics because she said Bury has not shared them with the village board.
“It’s inconceivable that the mayor has some sort of plan and has not shared it,” Quinlan said.
Trustee Robert Streit also is opposed to the plan and wants to know why there are no records associated with the proposal.
Bury said Streit has made no effort to learn more about the plan or offer other ideas.
“Not once has Trustee Streit called me or contacted me to inquire as to the nature of what was being developed,” Bury said.
She added that she has been forthcoming with information regarding the plan.
“Everything that is ready for public disclosure has been said by me at various board meetings in my senior updates. They are readily available. As the concept develops into something viable, it will be discussed in more detail,” she said.
Bury reiterated that the concept is a good one for the cash-strapped village.
“The village is facing at minimum and $8.7 million dollar deficit. It is going to be a challenge to give seniors what they want and deserve while still being financially responsible. I believe it is possible to do this with creative partnerships,” she said.
An Aug. 29 memo written by Bury and distributed at the senior center did offer some insights into the mayor’s proposal.
Carole Gutsch (above) and Carol Hopp (below, right) enjoy a game of cards Wednesday at the current Senior Center on West 105th Street. The center could be moving. Photos by Jeff Vorva.
The memo informed seniors that the village board in August authorized Village Manager Larry Deetjen to explore the feasibility of transitioning the Oak Lawn Senior Center to the park district.
The document added that the village is exploring in partnership with the park district the renovation of the shuttered bath house at Memorial Pool, 102nd Street and Major Avenue, into a 4,000-square-foot, free-standing senior center.
The pool was a closed a few years ago. Memorial Park, meanwhile, is being renovated to include a splash pad, new paths and landscaping around the pond.
Park district officials have said they support the mayor’s plan.
Bury has made clear the park district is better equipped than the village to provide services for seniors.
“We’re not really good at programs for seniors, we’re just not,” Bury has said. “It really does not fall into the domain of the village.”
Currently, the senior center is located in a portion of the old McGugan School, 5220 W. 105th St. The facilities were moved from the longtime location on 95th Street after the building was sold to make way for a bank.
Quinlan said the mayor has never explained why the Memorial Pool bathhouse was chosen as a preliminary site for the senior center or discussed how the renovations would be funded.
“This idea is terrible,” said Quinlan, adding that the village board should meet with seniors before the proposal moves forward.
“I believe their input would be invaluable,” she said.
The village’s response to Streit’s Freedom of Information request provided no information. Streit sought:
• Emails between the park district and village regarding outsourcing senior services;
• Studies or documents regarding a partnership between the village, the park district and/or a local business to provide seniors with a senior center at Memorial Park;
• Intergovernmental agreements between the village and park district regarding senior services or a senior center;
• Documents, including memos or findings from focus groups, conducted to learn what seniors desire from a new senior center;
• Documents, including memos, regarding field research performed to determine where the new senior center should be located and what services should be provided, and;
• Emails or other correspondence between the mayor and other village or park district officials relating to the senior center or senior services.
“The mayor claimed that they do exist,” Streit said. “If they do exist, (the village) has to provide them.”
Streit added that Bury has “totally disregarded the Senior Citizens Commission” by not seeking its input on her proposal.
Park District Director Maddie Kelly said she met with Bury, Deetjen, Trustee Alex Olejniczak and park board president Sue Murphy a few months ago to discuss the village’s proposal.
The village hired an architect to study the renovation of the bath house, but park district and village officials have not met again to talk about the plan, Kelly said.
“The ball is in their court,” Kelly said. “We have not heard back from them. It’s just been talk. It hasn’t been anything definitive.”