Riverside-Brookfield High School Superintendent Kevin Skinkis met last week with a handful of the school’s neighbors in the Hollywood section of Brookfield after the residents expressed concerns over a proposed parking lot immediately north of Hollywood School.
Skinkis said he understood residents’ concerns and that he would continue to work with them as planning continues. However, unless an alternative plan presents itself, he said he would continue working toward the general plan unveiled at the April 22 meeting of the District 208 school board.
“I’m trying to prepare the board, so that by springtime next year, we’re starting to do some work,” said Skinkis, referring to not just the parking lot but repairs to the football stadium, field and track. “I want to start to get those things addressed.”
It’s the timetable that has some Hollywood residents concerned. Residents who met with Skinkis for almost two hours on May 5 expressed not only concern that the plans for the parking lot were more than preliminary, they questioned the need to include parking in a plan to address life safety repairs to school facilities.
“I do believe this is beyond anything that’s preliminary,” said Bill Schlesser, who lives at the corner of Hollywood and Rockefeller avenues and whose front porch would look out onto the new parking lot.
Schlesser, his wife and three children moved into their home in 2011. The site wouldn’t have been as attractive if a 130-space parking lot across the street had been part of the equation.
“Literally 50 percent of our view will be paved parking lots,” said Schlesser, who met with Skinkis last week.
Martha Carlson, another Rockefeller Avenue resident who attended the May 5 meeting with Skinkis, questioned the need to include non-life safety improvements, like a parking lot, a stadium locker room and football field drainage upgrades — in the plan when the school district has identified more than $12 million in life safety improvements that ned to be completed.
The district plans on paying for the improvements with an $8.9 million grant awarded to RBHS in 2013 by the Illinois Capital Development Board.
“If this school is several million dollars short on required work, why are we talking about many millions of dollars in work that’s not necessary?” asked Carlson, who is also critical of the parking lot because school officials have said it’s not needed for student parking. Rather, the lot would be used heavily on nights and weekends when the school hosts athletic competitions and other special events.
“I understand the predicament,” said Carlson, who has two daughters attending RBHS and competing in a total of four sports. “But a lot of the people who will use the lot are out-of-district visitors and I’m not sure it’s appropriate for us to pay for it.”
Carlson and Schlesser also said a parking lot abutting Hollywood School would make the area less safe. All of the neighborhood representatives strenuously objected to a preliminary drawing that showed a parking lot entrance/exit on Hollywood Avenue.
“It threatens the security of students at the school, their siblings, parents and neighbors,” said Carlson. “Those concerns remain.”
Residents implored Skinkis to work with officials at the Cook County Forest Preserve District and Brookfield Zoo to come up with an alternative to the new parking lot, but Skinkis said it’s unlikely that either entity would cede the use of any of its property for dedicated RBHS parking.
The Cook County Forest Preserve District owns the land used for the teachers’ parking lot and for the athletic field immediately north of the high school. It rents the parking lot to the school on school days. Otherwise, Brookfield Zoo has complete control over use of that property.
“I’ve been working on this issue since I started here,” said Skinkis, adding that he maintains a very good relationship with officials at both the zoo and the forest preserve district.
“I think people forget the zoo is also a business, and they need a place to park all their visitors. I think we’ve made a lot of strides, but at the end of the day, we don’t own any of the property.
“We’re at a point where we have to do something to address this.”
As for mixing general capital improvements with the life safety upgrades, Skinkis said it simply made sense.
The tennis courts need to be repaired. If there’s an opportunity to build the courts somewhere else and it opens up space for a parking lot, it makes sense to tackle the project now.
Similarly, if the district is going to spend money to improve the football stadium, it makes sense to include other stadium-related improvements at the same time, said Skinkis.
As for the concern that the parking lot would mainly benefit outsiders, Skinkis disagreed.
“We have a great facility here and we do rent it out and it provides revenue for the district,” said Skinkis. “But we also have events here where our own staff and students have no place to park.”
In response to criticism that D208 had not reached out to residents and Riverside School District 96 prior to unveiling the parking lot plan last month, Skinkis sent a letter to Hollywood residents and D96 last week.
In the letter, Skinkis reiterated that the April 22 plan was still considered preliminary and that community members will have the opportunity to provide more input at meeting of the school board’s facilities committee in the future.
“I totally understand what residents’ concerns are,” Skinkis said in a phone interview Friday. “We’re going to try to work with everybody. But at the end of the day, we have to do what’s best for the district.”