The effort to expand West Suburban Medical Center in the form of a proposed new emergency room is about to get more formal.

The Oak Park village board is expected to forward West Sub’s rezoning request to the Village of Oak Park Plan Commission for a public hearing, scheduled to begin Aug. 17. The request is to rezone the hospital-owned residential area south and west of West Sub in order to build a 30,000-square-foot emergency room addition.

To date, hospital officials have been meeting informally with neighbors to include their feedback into designs. The neighborhood committee met last Thursday to review the architect’s renderings of the proposed ER building.

But rezoning isn’t the Resurrection-owned hospital’s only hurdle to clear before breaking ground. It also needs the village to vacate ownership of the half-block of Humphrey Avenue north of Ontario Street. It needs state approval of the addition. And it needs to figure out what to do with a two-story graystone that lies within the Ridgeland-Oak Park Historic District.

“If anybody wants it, you can have it for a buck,” joked Tom Coffey, whose firm The Haymarket Group moderates the neighborhood committee meetings.

Neighbors attending the meetings have come to largely endorse the hospital’s plans, although most would rather the hospital not expand at all.

“There were no surprises for me,” said Joe Steffen, a member of the East Central Oak Park Neighborhood Association and resident of the 200 block of North Taylor Avenue. “The plan was pretty much what I expected, based on what I’d seen before.”

One neighbor, though, an Austin resident, said that although Oak Parkers opinions have been voiced, few concerns from Austin residents have been heard.

Lulu Gordon is worried that traffic would be rerouted onto Austin Boulevard if the project is undertaken, which would further congest the thoroughfare. Getting traffic out of Oak Park neighborhoods is fine, “but in the meantime, we’re being disturbed,” she said.

“There will be more traffic on Austin,” said Tim Doron, a traffic consultant with KLOA Inc., working for the hospital. “But that’s an arterial. We want to shift traffic to busier streets.”
Hospital officials said their busiest times–shift changes–do not coincide with rush-hour congestion, and Doron added that the traffic that would be rerouted to the boulevard is “a very small component of the daily traffic on Austin.”
The hospital likely will face further criticism from Oak Park neighbors, too.

“There are several people who don’t want to see anything built,” Steffen said. Those people did not participate in the neighborhood committee meetings.

All community members interested in giving feedback on the project are encouraged to attend a meeting later this month at the hospital. A date and time have not yet been set, but hospital officials said it would be widely publicized.

Renderings of the proposed building show a brick and glass one-story building that rises 18 feet, with a setback second-story corridor to connect to the main hospital rising to 32 feet. Landscaping surrounds the addition, including the use of berms, walls, fences and evergreen trees to soften views even during winter months.
A community meeting room is proposed for the northwest corner of the building, accessible through a separate entrance sealed off from the ER.