D181 office prospects prove elusive

Viable sites for building a new Community Consolidated Elementary District 181 administrative center are understandably scarce in a fully developed district that is 97 percent residential.

But the notion of continuing to lease office space does not appeal to some board members, who had a permanent district-owned facility in mind when they set aside $7 million 18 months ago for the endeavor.

Administrators at Monday’s District 181 board meeting provided an update on the search for a new headquarters, with the two top candidates being office space rentals in Westmont.

“The current environment in the Westmont office product is particularly very tenant-favorable right now,” said Rick Engstrom, assistant superintendent of business and operations.

The locations are outside the district, territory that was necessary to explore according to Mike Duggan, director of facilities.

“We have cast a wider net to try to find opportunities to lease and to purchase both within and outside the district boundaries,” Duggan said.

Board President Margie Kleber, however, expressed concern about of spending millions on another multi-year lease.

“We represented to the taxpayers that what we were looking at was a long-term investment that was going to pay off beyond 20 years,” Kleber said.

Since 2015 the district has leased roughly 12,000 square feet at 115 W. 55th St. in Clarendon Hills, for which it pays about $206,000 a year. The lease ends in June of 2025.

Engstrom also noted an office building is available for just under $3.5 million on Walker Avenue in Clarendon Hills, but said it came with several hurdles.

“That’s a hard area just because of the parking issues and knowing that there are currently leases in place,” he said.

Superintendent Hector Garcia said the district needs to either find a buildable site in the next year or a rental space in the next two years if a proper transition is to be made.

He laid out the key factors guiding the search, namely availability, favorable price/terms, timing of lease, district proximity and amenities/flexibility of space.

“We wanted to make sure the board and the community was aware of what we’re seeing as some benchmark criteria so that when new opportunities come up, that we’re able to take advantage,” Garcia said.

The search team has included a commercial real estate broker, architect, engineers, environmental service personnel as well as local residents to identify, visit and review location options.

Engstrom said constructing a 12,000-square-foot building would cost about $350 a square foot and require six to 12 months of lead time. Of course, that’s only if land can be obtained.

“We know it’s very limited in district options for lease or for sale (properties) based on what we’ve been looking at the last few years,” Engstrom said.

Kleber hopes further efforts can yield more promising results for a permanent site, “I think we still have a little bit of time,” she said, (Leasing is) just not something I can support right now.”

Author Bio

Ken Knutson is associate editor of The Hinsdalean