In May, Superintendent Mark Kuzniewski and the Brookfield-LaGrange Park District 95 Board of Education announced plans to propose a property tax referendum, possibly in April 2016, to issue up to $20 million in construction bonds in order to build a new K-2 school at Madlin Park in Brookfield and renovate S.E. Gross Middle School.
With more than 750 students at Brook Park and S.E. Gross’ population more than 400 students, district leaders acknowledge that in order to adequately house students for the foreseeable future, the schools’ current infrastructure simply won’t cut it.
A majority of the District 95 school board have reached consensus that of all of the options it has considered to date, the Madlin Park plan is the one they’d like to explore.
“At the board level, it does appear certain from everything we’ve talked about, building a building in Madlin Park appears to be the better solution,” said school board President Lynn Waterloo. “And the direction we gave was to go ahead and develop that option.”
However, not all on the board agree that breaking ground for a facility at Madlin Park is the best way to alleviate the problem.
While school board member Brian Conroy is in favor of having the community weigh in on the issue, he personally is against the idea of taking away community green space in favor of brick and mortar.
In May, Conroy sent a mass email — titled “Simply Mad About Madlin” — to residents of the district asking them to vocally oppose the school board’s proposal.
“Make your voice heard and contact our village officials as well as the District 95 board members and tell them you are Simply Mad About Madlin,” Conroy wrote in his email. “While there are no easy options here, there are other options. I just feel very strongly that this one needs to be taken off the table.”
Conroy’s main issue with building on Madlin Park is that with the park gone, children in the area will have one less outdoor space to use in a village where park space is scarce and already heavily populated.
In a recent phone interview with the Landmark, Conroy explained his opposition to the plan a majority of the District 95 school board appears to support.
“Kids just need a place to play [and] it’s the only open parcel for kids that live in central Brookfield to go play,” he said. “I wouldn’t let my kids go to Jaycee Ehlert Park by themselves and cross Ogden Avenue and they shouldn’t have to go that far to play with their friends.”
Rather than painting Conroy’s email as a colleague trying to sabotage the board’s efforts, board member John LaBarbera, who is open to the idea of building a new K-2 facility on Madlin Park, shared Conroy’s hope that voters will come out and either speak up for or against the project.
“What I support is exploring the possibility of the project in terms of exploring options,” LaBarbera said. “It’s way too early at this point for me to say that this is the best solution, because there’s so many other steps involved, including community support for a project of that nature.”
LaBarbera said he does not want the story of potential Madlin Park development to be controversial but rather a conversation point for the community to come together and find solutions for continuing the strong academic atmosphere of the district.
“We’ve done some really good things here in large part because we’ve been able to keep spaces effective,” he said. “What the administrators have told us is that the optimal level of student population is smaller than what we have now. You have crowding issues, safety concerns and classroom size concerns. I think we have the will, the financial capability and the staff to do all these wonderful things. We just need the appropriate space to do them in.”
Conroy said he’s gotten a positive response to his email, saying a lot of parents and residents agree with him that taking away Madlin Park would be detrimental to the community as a whole. He also does not believe the board will get the support it is seeking out to begin the project.
“There are more kids coming into this community, which means they need more space, not less,” Conroy said. “We need a space for kids to go to get off their devices and to engage in team sports. If you drive around Brookfield at 5 p.m., I can almost guarantee every parcel right now is taken up with Little League teams and people competing for space.”
LaBarbera says that communicating with the community has always been a challenge and that the board understands it needs to convince people to vote in favor of the project.
“People come out when there’s a perceived problem and, right now, District 95 is performing quite well and people don’t perceive a problem,” LaBarbera said. “We’re very prudent and very careful, so hopefully the community recognizes that we’re good stewards.”
To alleviate crowding, Conroy believes the board should further explore the option of expanding at Brook Park School in LaGrange Park.
“I would think developing Brook Park is a viable option and one that needs to be explored further so we can get a full understanding of what the costs are,” he said. “I think Madlin Park is the more convenient solution in that it does not displace any kids during construction, but I don’t think it is the better option.”
LaBarbera wants the community to know that the board is hoping that voters can heavily weigh in on what they want for their students.
“I’m up for suggestions anybody has,” he said. “Something like this is so significant that it’s not just for seven people to make their decision. I’m a fiduciary of the finances of the district, and I think it’s the most economically prudent and thoughtful step we can take.”
Conroy said he wants voters to know that as a school board member, he remains open to all community ideas and wants what is best for students.
“I just want to make sure there is awareness,” Conroy added. “This is forever going to change the footprint of Brookfield if Madlin Park is developed.”
Bob Uphues contributed to this report.