Riverside-Brookfield High School and the village of North Riverside are exploring a proposal that would bring new tennis courts to a village park while freeing up enough space next door to the high school for a 130-vehicle parking lot.
The plan is being talked about as part of a package of infrastructure improvements planned for the RBHS campus west of Golf Road.
In addition to creating the new parking lot, school officials are talking about significant improvements to the home and visitor bleachers at Shuey Stadium, resurfacing and possibly enlarging the running track and installing a new artificial turf football field.
“Everybody knows we have to deal with this,” said District 208 Superintendent Kevin Skinkis.
The work would be funded by money obtained by the high school through an $8.9 million capital grant, received in 2013 from the Illinois Capital Development Board.
Skinkis unveiled a conceptual plan of the parking/tennis court proposal at the April 22 meeting of the District 208 Board of Education. While Skinkis cautioned that the plans were preliminary and that no agreement had been officially hammered out between the school district and North Riverside, high school officials appear keen to improve what is often an exasperating parking situation at the campus.
“This has always been an issue,” said school board member John Keen. “It’s a fact of life at RB.”
While RBHS has two parking lots available to it on school days, it owns neither. The Cook County Forest Preserve District owns the 174-space parking lot directly north of the school’s main entrance.
On weekends and evenings, particularly when the weather is nice, the forest preserve district closes the lot in order to use it for overflow parking for Brookfield Zoo. RBHS pays the forest preserve district $18,000 per year to rent the lot for the 180 school days. The rental price goes up about $1,000 per year.
The village of Brookfield leases an 85-space parking lot along Rockefeller Avenue just west of the school. Students, who are chosen by lottery, use the lot and pay the school district a fee for permits. RBHS pays Brookfield about $14,000 annually for use of the lot.
“When the zoo gates lock, we really don’t have any parking other than the 85 spots on Rockefeller,” said Skinkis. “[The new lot] would provide us an additional 130 parking spots on those days where the gates are locked.”
The new parking lot would be constructed directly north of Hollywood School, where RBHS presently has six tennis courts and a field used for track and field throwing events. The field events could be shifted to the athletic fields just north of the high school building, though that land is also owned by the forest preserve district and is often commandeered by the zoo on nice weekend days.
School board member Garry Gryczan expressed concern that in the conceptual drawing provided to the board, there’s an entrance to the parking lot on Hollywood Avenue. Particularly on school days, Gryczan said, it might be dangerous to have so many cars traveling down Hollywood Avenue in front of the elementary school.
“I have serious concerns about traffic flow on Hollywood Avenue with an entrance [to the parking lot] several feet away from the grammar school,” he said.
Skinkis replied that the plan in front of board members was not final and that a Hollywood Avenue entrance was not necessarily inevitable.
In order to make room for the parking lot, Skinkis approached North Riverside Mayor Hubert Hermanek Jr. about possibly constructing tennis courts near the western edge of Veterans Park on 26th Street. The area where the tennis courts would be located at one time had a tot lot, which was removed years ago.
The village formerly had tennis courts behind the public works facility, but they have been removed.
Plans given to school board members last week indicate that eight tennis courts would take up nearly 58,000 square feet on land sitting directly west of the bike path that cuts through that area of the park.
The school district would pay for the construction of the tennis courts, while the village would pay for a fence around the courts and for maintenance. The high school would be the primary user of the courts, though residents would have access to the courts when the high school is not using them, said Hermanek.
“This way, RB will get the parking they so desperately need and we have room for the courts,” said Hermanek. “The cost to North Riverside is minimal.”
Meanwhile, the two homeowners whose eastward views would be affected by the construction of the tennis courts don’t appear to be opposed to the plan.
“They shouldn’t affect anyone,” said Benny Ritacca. “I think it’s great.”
Wayne Pesek, whose home would be immediately next to the tennis courts said he has requested that village officials keep him in the loop on any developments regarding the tennis courts.
While he didn’t express outright support for the plan, he didn’t appear to oppose it either.
“With respect to the park land, it’s a matter for the village and high school to agree to,” said Pesek, who formerly was North Riverside’s village administrator. “[Village Administrator] Guy [Belmonte] assured me he’d be in contact with me as soon as there was anything more definitive.
“Certainly, there’s quite a bit of park land that’s underutilized.”