Last week, Riverside Elementary School District 96 offered to buy land from a Brookfield community organization as a way to build a new playground for younger students at Hollywood School.

District 96 offered $25,000 to the Hollywood Citizens Association (HCA) for an approximately 4,725-square-foot strip of land just southeast of Hollywood School that is now owned by the HCA. 

The offer came after new District 96 Superintendent Martha Ryan-Toye and school board member Rich Regan met with three HCA board members, including HCA board President Gonzo Schexnayder, on July 15.

“We feel that the district owning that property would allow us to feel comfortable with the necessary development on the property as well as liability on the property,” Ryan-Toye told the Landmark on Monday. 

Ryan-Toye said school children could use the area during the school day, adding it would be open to the community when school is not in session.

District 96 had hoped to build a playground for 3- to 5-year-olds this summer on land owned by the HCA near the existing playground, which is also on HCA land, but the organization refused unless the district guaranteed to replace the existing playground, which is designed for 5- to 12-year-olds by 2018. 

The school board was unwilling to make that commitment until a new committee comprehensively analyzes playground needs at all five district schools this year.

In a July 27 letter to Schexnayder, Ryan-Toye said that it would be simpler for the school district to own the land on which the playground sits.

“The district would very much like to develop the playground property including managing the student safety and liability concerns,” Ryan-Toye wrote in her letter, which she provided to the Landmark after the newspaper asked about it. “We feel it would be in the best interest of the Brookfield community for District 96 to purchase the ‘playground land’ from the HCA.”

In the letter, Ryan-Toye offered for the district to pay all of the HCA’s costs in a sale, including reasonable attorney fees and title insurance.

Ryan-Toye said that District 96 would commit to providing a quality playground suitable for early learners through fifth-graders.  

In the letter, Ryan-Toye wrote that it has been difficult for the district to commit to property improvements when the district does not own the land. District 96 school board member Rachel Marrello has questioned making playground improvements or building a new playground on land the district does not own or for which it does not even have a formal rental agreement.

At the July 15 meeting, the HCA representatives told Ryan-Toye and Regan that the organization was not interested in selling any of its land. However, after receiving Ryan-Toye’s letter, Schexnayder said he would present the offer as a topic of discussion at the community organization’s next board meeting, which is scheduled for Sept. 12.

“The HCA Board’s primary mission is to preserve the Hollywood House and land as a resource for the community,” Schexnayder said in an email. “However, out of respect for the new superintendent and in the interest of serving the students of Hollywood Elementary, we expect to discuss the offer letter in our September board meeting. We have shared that decision with Superintendent Ryan-Toye.”

Ryan-Toye said the she understood the HCA representatives’ initial position, but hoped that the HCA would reconsider when presented with a formal offer.

“It’s not that I didn’t hear them, but it was my hope that they might consider [selling] just that playground piece,” Ryan-Toye told the Landmark. 

Ryan-Toye said that having the school district own the playground land while still allowing the entire community to use the playgrounds would be a win-win for kids. 

“Let us own it, let us develop it and it’s still there for everybody to use,” Ryan-Toye said. 

The July 15 meeting apparently went much better than a similar meeting in April. At that meeting, one of the HCA board members walked out, disgusted by what he felt was the arrogant attitude of District 96 officials.

This meeting, the first between HCA representatives and Ryan-Toye, went much better. 

“She seemed very interesting in finding a solution,” Schexnayder said. “It was a pleasant conversation.”

Whether the two sides can reach a deal is uncertain.

“We have a board meeting to discuss what our goals are and if the school board’s goals are in line with what we were hoping to accomplish,” Schexnayder said.

Membership of the Hollywood Citizens Association comprises those who live within the Hollywood neighborhood, which is bounded by Brookfield Zoo on the north, Salt Creek on the west and south and the Des Plaines River on the east and includes parts of Brookfield, Riverside and Lyons.

It owns and operates the Hollywood Community House, which in addition to hosting the organization’s events is rented to local groups and the public. The house sits on land directly south of Hollywood School. The playground, on HCA land, sits between the school and Hollywood House.

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