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Freeport Park District Board votes to demolish Oakdale Tabernacle

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FREEPORT (WREX)  — The Freeport Park District Board has voted to demolish the Oakdale Tabernacle, an over 100-year-old piece of history in rural Freeport.

Dozens of protesters rallied in Freeport Tuesday night, fighting to save the historic building, but they lost that fight.

Inside, there was standing room only and a line just outside the door of people waiting to get in and plead their case for renovations.

In all, 22 people spoke and 21 of them were in favor of keeping the Oakdale Tabernacle and restoring it. For some, the passion to keep the building standing was one of nostalgia and sentiment and evoked strong emotional responses.

"Please don't tear the tabernacle down ever," Judy Coss, a protester, said to end her speech.

"I think we can create opportunities at Oakdale," another protester said.

And some speakers tried to counter some of the board's points for demolition.

"People say well, it's not used, well why isn't it used? Maybe because it hasn't been opened for people to use," the protester said.

The last year the Oakdale Tabernacle had regular maintenance and was rented out was 2012. Since then, it's fallen into disrepair and restoring it to it's former glory would cost the board, and taxpayers, more than $1 million.

Park district board members listened for more than an hour to people begging them to spare the tabernacle. It was a close vote, but the board voted 3-2 Tuesday night to demolish it.

The building has been up since 1915, but dwindling interest and restoration costs led the board to consider demolition.

According to Freeport Park District Commissioner Ken Collin, restoration would have cost around $1.3 million. He also says that price tag would not cover any upgrades, just the bare minimum. He adds it is hard to justify asking taxpayers to spend that kind of money when the facility sees such little use.

"I'm proud of the decision," Collin said. "I stand by it. I think it was the right thing to do. You can always talk about how we didn't have enough time, [but] we spent five years on this thing. How much more time do you want? You have to decide and move on."

And the park district's Vice President Debbie Schwartz took a harsher approach, asking protesters, "Where were you for the last five years?"

She also said, "We needed help, we asked for help when this was first brought up and nobody was there."

It may be too little too late for the Oakdale Tabernacle, but the board says while it's tough to say goodbye, it's time to move on.

The board's next step is to look for bids to demolish it.

Richard Bodee

Richard Bodee is a reporter at WREX. He joined the 13 WREX team in June 2019 after graduating from DePaul University with a Master’s degree in broadcast journalism.

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