A couple things were clear from last week’s meeting of the Facilities Advisory Committee of the Riverside-Brookfield High School District 208 Board of Education.

Hollywood residents are vociferously opposed to the construction on a new parking lot on a field just north of Hollywood School. But school officials, responding to those complaints, are trying to work out an arrangement with the Brookfield Zoo and Cook County which would allow the district to reduce the size of the proposed parking lot and preserve the green space just north of Hollywood School while still paving over the existing tennis courts for a smaller parking lot. 

The meeting drew a standing-room-only crowd of approximately 70 people in RBHS’ Alumni Lounge on June 24. After listening for an hour as resident after resident voiced their objections to a building a new 133-space parking lot on land now occupied by the field and tennis courts, District 208 Superintendent Kevin Skinkis revealed that he has talked to Cook County officials about them granting District 208 an easement, which would allow District 208 to pave over a fire lane and put in 34 angled parking lots just north the high school on land owned by the county.

“That’s one alternative that’s still possibly on the table,” Skinkis said. “We would use that for handicapped and visitor parking. We would propose doing a smaller parking lot on the Hollywood side.”

Skinkis said that he has personally raised the issue of parking and acquiring or sharing land with the county officials, including Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, but the best answer he has received so far is that they will consider granting the easement for a narrow strip of parking right next to the school.

He said that he, too, would like to preserve the field facing Hollywood Avenue which is currently used for the shot put and discus throwing areas during the track-and-field season and as a practice area for lower-level football teams.

“We are listening to your concerns,” Skinkis told the crowd. 

A conceptual drawing indicates that a surface parking lot built on the existing tennis courts would add 66 parking spaces.

Tennis players and their parents oppose paving over the tennis courts and constructing new tennis courts in North Riverside’s Veterans Park. 

“We would like the courts to remain at RB and for two reasons,” said Peter Pribyl Pierdinock the captain of the RB boys’ tennis team. “One, the loss of practice time and two, because tennis is not the most popular sport and it’s just going to be a deterrent to kids who already may have second thoughts about joining the team.”

For the first hour of the meeting, neighbors criticized the proposal to put a parking lot right next to Hollywood School.

Brian Cerda dramatized his point by playing a recording of a car alarm for nearly all of his three-minute public comment during the first public comment portion of the meeting.

“Imagine you’re a second-grader taking your first spelling test,” said Cerda speaking over the blaring of the car alarm. “I am a teacher and this is no laughing matter. What’s shocking is that people who run a school are not thinking about other students.” 

Sue Gersch, the co-president of the Hollywood School PTA, also spoke out against putting a parking lot next to the school.

“This is not in the good spirit of community,” Gersch said. “Parents in the school are not happy about this situation.”

Others spoke of the loss of green space that community members use.

“I’ve flown kites with my kids there,” said Rolando Cruz who lives on Hollywood Avenue, right across the street from the proposed parking lot. “I’ve taught my daughter how to pitch there. I’ve played football there.”

Hollywood residents accused RBHS of not being a good neighbor. One said that the school should not encourage students to drive to the campus.

“Gas at over $4 a gallon and we’re encouraging people to drive?” asked Sam Levin. “Let’s set an example.”

But district officials said they need more parking, and they just don’t have other options.

The Cook County Forest Preserve District, which technically owns the zoo property, already owns RBHS’ main parking lot and could take it back in the future. The forest preserve district also owns the baseball and softball fields directly north of the school.

“If we weren’t landlocked we wouldn’t be having this discussion,” said Facilities Advisory Committee member Tim Walsh. “We wouldn’t be talking about parking; we wouldn’t be talking about moving sports.”

Fellow committee member John Keen said the school district cannot acquire forest preserve property for parking as many suggested.

“We do not own the land just north of here; we never will,” Keen said. “Actually the zoo is being very kind to us to let us use it now. They could take it away. … There is no perfect solution given the fact we don’t own it.”

Skinkis said he had talked to zoo officials since he came to District 208 three years ago about the possibility of buying land. An easement is the only thing county and zoo officials would even consider.

District officials had tried unsuccessfully to get county officials to attend last week’s meeting, but Walsh said they would try again when the committee holds its next meeting.

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