Some members of the Riverside-Brookfield High School District 208 Board of Education are not happy about delays and added costs related to their plans to build a new parking lot and move the school’s tennis courts.

On Jan. 22, school officials went before the Brookfield Planning and Zoning Commission, seeking two variances and a special use permit for its project. The commission took no action that night. Instead the commission asked for an additional traffic study and a parking study. 

That didn’t go over well with some in District 208, who expressed their frustration, and perhaps some anger, at the school board’s committee of the whole meeting on Jan. 27.

RBHS officials feel that they have gone out of their way to accommodate concerns expressed by neighbors, even doubling the size of a storm water detention vault at cost of an additional $200,000. That vault is projected to reduce water runoff by 93 percent. The larger water vault was suggested by the village’s engineer. Earlier plans had envisioned reducing runoff by about 30 percent.

“It’s costing us more and more money,” said Matt Sinde the president of the District 208 school board. “We don’t have the big Lotto ticket that is going to give us all the money in the world.” 

Sinde and other board members were also not happy about having to pay $13,000 for a new traffic study after village staff decided that the first study did not measure impact on days when the Brookfield Zoo or the high school would be hosting special events. 

Commission member Patrick Benjamin asked the school to conduct a formal parking study.

“We’ve been a good neighbor,” said Sinde, a former chairman of the Brookfield Zoning Board of Appeals. “We follow what the village wants us to do and then all of a sudden they’re throwing on extra requirements and they’re throwing on extra studies. Why are you asking for a parking study? Drive around the streets and see what we have. We have none.”

School board member Garry Gryczan was also unhappy with the reception the plan got from the commission and the increasing cost of the project.

“We overdid what was needed, Gryczan said. “Are they trying to cost us out of doing this? I thought the plan we had was accommodative to everyone. 

“But if we’re going to be road-blocked by the village and have to spend money that ultimately doesn’t get back into the education I’m going to start being opposed to it.”

Some residents who live near RBHS have complained that the proposed parking lot could attract people hanging out late at night and they worried about safety. In previous meetings neighbors have pointed to unsavory behavior occasionally taking place in the current Rockefeller Avenue parking lot.

Gryczan said if the neighbors are so concerned about security, the school should install lights to illuminate the field upon which school officials want to build.  

“We have a light pole that’s lighting the stadium,” Gryczan said. “All we need to do is add lights on the other side of it and cast them down into that area so that the Hollywood people can feel safe by it being well lit at night, to about 11 o’clock, so they can know that area is not an area where’s there’s potential problems.”

Gryczan also seemed to raise the possibility that delays in the project caused by the village would prevent RBHS from hosting football games next fall. 

“Maybe we have to go a year without football,” Gryczan said.

RBHS is tearing down its football stadium and installing new bleachers and new artificial turf. That aspect of the $6.5 million project does not require village approval. 

Gryczan did not respond to a call from the Landmark asking how a delay or rejection of the parking lot proposal would affect the work on the football stadium.

School board member Tim Walsh was not happy that Art Perry, a member of the Riverside Elementary School District 96 Board of Education, spoke at the meeting to express concerns about the project. 

Perry said he was speaking for himself and not for the District 96 school, but other members of the District 96 school board, most vocally Randy Brockway, have expressed concerns about RBHS’ proposal. 

Walsh noted that District 208 provides parking spaces for District 96 and it allows Hollywood students use the RBHS track and football field for recess. 

“We provide areas for recess to them because they’re landlocked like we are,” Walsh said. “We give 10 Rockefeller parking spaces to District 96. 

“We need to really consider if there is a way we can talk to District 96 and say, ‘Hey, it’s not perfect, but we do a lot for you. Isn’t that worth you supporting us on this?'”

Sinde wondered if the school should have even sought approval from the village, noting that Brookfield-LaGrange Park School District 95 decided not to seek approval from the village of LaGrange Park for its plan to install mobile classrooms at Brook Park School. 

Many school officials say that as a separate unit of government, they do not need approval from municipalities for construction on their own property. They say they are regulated by the Illinois State Board of Education.

That argument will soon be tested before the Illinois Supreme Court, which has agreed to hear a case involving a school district in Crystal Lake, which installed 50-foot high football bleachers without seeking the approval of the village. 

Neighbors sued claiming the bleachers violated the zoning code. The school district claims it did not need a variance, but the school district lost before a trial judge and before an appeals court. 

Now the school district has appealed to the Illinois Supreme Court.  

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