District 96’s school board president last week put the brakes on an effort by a group of Riverside residents offering to help gather community input for landscaping outside Hauser Junior High, 65 Woodside Road.
Nancy Jensen, the school board president, said she wanted the board to maintain control over the design process and that the redesign effort should be led by the landscape architect hired by the district.
“It sounded like a lot of extra effort when we have a plan that I think is a pretty good plan,” Jensen said. “Whatever happens, either this fall or in the summer, it’ll be where we can get structured input from other community members or this group.”
Riverside resident Christopher Robling enlisted various community members to form a committee that would engage residents in a dialogue, the result of which would be recommendations for the Hauser landscape design.
The committee included a member of the village’s Landscape Advisory Commission, the Hauser PTA, the Frederick Law Olmsted Society, the Riverside Preservation Commission and a professional landscape architect.
At the District 96 board meeting on Tuesday, Robling asked the board for its blessing to get started on the process, suggesting that the committee meet with the board’s building committee within the month.
The citizens committee had outlined a timetable for the process, which included soliciting input, a design exercise that included input from students and school staff, and a presentation of concepts to the building committee by the end of the year.
“We wanted an open, inclusive effort in coming up with a new plan,” Robling told the board on June 16. “We want to create a public input process that would take place over the summer.”
While Giles McCarthy, the chairman of the board’s building committee said he was willing to meet with the committee to discuss their proposal, Jensen was not enthusiastic.
“I appreciate the input, but it has to be our process,” said Jensen to Robling at the board meeting. “I don’t think we need a citizens advisory committee. We’ve been working on this for a year and a half.”
In a separate interview, Jensen softened her stance on the committee somewhat, saying she would welcome their input, but said that the district’s architect should be the one managing the process.
“Chris had a very structured time schedule, and I don’t know if we can meet that time schedule,” Jensen said. “But I hope we can modify that process and get their input.”
The school district is going back to the drawing board on a landscape plan for Hauser Junior High after the village board in April tabled their review of the plan approved by the district.
That plan had included widening the sidewalk in front of the school to 12 feet. The wider sidewalk was needed for safety reasons, district officials contended. The proposal would also have meant cutting down a large tree in front of the school.
In the wake of the village’s action, Robling volunteered to form a committee to help the district come up with alternate solutions, driven by public input. At first, Robling said, the idea was well-received by the board.
“In April, the board welcomed us and we prepared extensively with staff and board members in good faith seeking their guidance and coordination,” Robling said. “And we recognized at all times that the board would make the choices on how to proceed. And they chose to move forward without robust public input.”