Our group came together spontaneously around October 2017, all having a love for the Tabernacle and a desire to bring it back to use. The demolition of the Oakdale Lodge had surprised many in the community and we were concerned about the Tabernacle. We have attended over 70% of the Board meetings and 100% of the Special meetings since then.
In 2018, during the time Dewberry Inc. and Fehr Graham were making their reports and assessments, there was plenty of discussion about what to do with the Tabernacle. That was a hopeful time but we still were not entirely sure what the Board was thinking. We found the lack of communication and acknowledgment we were there, frustrating.
Then the Park Board decided to put a non-binding resolution on the Nov 2018 ballot. Commissioner Collins said, "we will prove once and for all, you are the only ones that care about this building". We felt the question was worded harshly, with no community education of what the number meant and if there were less costly ways to proceed. The question was worded something like this: "Do you want us to spend up to 1.3 million dollars on the Tabernacle"? The thing is even with that harsh language and no other version of repair offered, it almost won, getting 49% of the vote. To our group, this vote proved that people in our community do care about the Tabernacle.
Following the election, during 2019, the Tabernacle was never on the Park Board agendas and minutes. Our group kept attending meetings and speaking to the Board during public comment, rarely if ever getting answers. But we were there.
Then all of a sudden, late in 2019, at last meeting of the year, just before Christmas, the Tabernacle was put on new business for discussion. That quickly led to the moment we are at now. The moment when they will either accept a bid to demolish the building on Feb 4th or hopefully NOT. They do not have to accept a bid and could give us the time and cooperation we've asked for.
Honestly, these recent actions took us by surprise. It hardly seems fair to do this right around the holidays, in the dead of winter, but that's the reality and we have been trying since then to change the Commissioner's minds and to make the public aware. To get them to slow down and look at the options we've offered.
We have sent them a letter asking for more time. Here's our letter:
January 15, 2020
Dear Park Commissioners,
At the January 7, 2020 board meeting, a motion was approved to solicit bids to demolish the Tabernacle at the Oakdale Nature Preserve. Since this action, the Friends of the Oakdale Tabernacle have been engaged in discussions to determine a way forward. There has been much activity, and our resolve to preserve the Tabernacle is undeterred.
We understand the financial restraints that the Park District is under, and the uncertainty of the availability of funds moving forward.
We would like to make a proposal that would hopefully benefit all involved. We have started the process of forming a non-profit and would like to fully investigate the possibility of purchasing the Tabernacle, or possibly the whole Nature Preserve through a nature conservancy. Because it has only been a few days since the January 7th meeting, this is all very preliminary. Please know that we are very serious, and some funds have already been pledged.
Would it be possible for us to have a ninety-day exploratory period to start our meetings in earnest. Some of these meetings will be with the Park District and we will certainly keep the whole board apprised of our progress.
As of January 28th, we have not heard a reply. What have we been doing since? We have learned about private/public partnerships with the Park. We have talked to Landmark Illinois to see if they had ideas. We have considered starting a non-profit and purchasing the approx 23 acres the Tabernacle sits on or the entire Park. We have been looking for locations to move the Tabernacle too, to make it a centerpiece of our town. We have considered trying to start a Stephenson County Forest Preserve, as suggested recently to us, by a Commissioner. We have grown our Facebook group from 50 members to over 500 members, we have started a pledge drive, and gotten 60 people to attend the January 7th meeting and give an hour and a half of public testimony. We've gotten newspaper and TV coverage. We've called the Commissioners separately and some have called us back. Now. . . we've made a website to help get our message out there.
January 30, 2020 - Read and download our latest letter below.
Our biggest ask? Please give us time and work with us to save the Tabernacle.
We need your help. The steering committee is working fast and furious on ALL fronts. There is still hope on a few of them. Here is what we need members of the group to do right now. These truly can help: