Unable to get Brookfield officials to agree to a new plan calling for a 63-space parking lot buffered from Hollywood Avenue by an increased grassy setback and tennis courts, Riverside-Brookfield High School has embarked on a new strategy to help convince the village board.
Convincing the greater RBHS community to rally around the plan and make their voices heard.
On Sept. 21, the high school posted an online petition on its website and on its Facebook page asking community members – and even those from outside the district – to support District 208’s parking/tennis court plan.
A link to the petition was also sent out in an email blast to school families and others on the district’s email list and RBHS Principal Kristin Smetana tweeted the link on her Twitter account.
The petition is part of the district’s strategy to ramp up a public relations campaign to identify and rally support for the plan, which has faced intense opposition in the Hollywood community near the high school and has failed to win village support despite scaling the parking lot back significantly since it was first proposed in 2014.
“When the village rejected our proposal, I think the [school] board realized we had a lot more work to do and had to start educating the community,” said Superintendent Kevin Skinkis. “This is truly an opportunity to increase support of the communities that are being served.”
The petition itself is simple, stating the need for additional parking and asking supporters to sign it and voice their opinions with Brookfield officials.
The high school has also made public address announcements at sporting events asking supporters to contact village officials, and a letter arguing the school district’s case was included in the souvenir program at the last home football game.
RBHS turned up the volume on its efforts by unveiling the online petition just prior to homecoming weekend, where school officials hope to get the ear of alumni.
“It’s an opportunity to get our story out,” Skinkis said. “Both sides want to see this come to a close.”
In the meantime, a lawsuit filed by the school district against the village is pending in Cook County Circuit Court.
District 208 filed the suit in 2015, shortly after Brookfield’s village board voted down a recommendation by the Brookfield Planning and Zoning Commission to approve a special use permit and zoning variances for a 91-space parking lot and new tennis courts on land the school district owns just north of Hollywood School.
When it was originally proposed in 2014, the school called for a 150-space parking lot and for moving tennis courts off campus to Veterans Park in North Riverside.
Officials from the school district and village have met several times since the lawsuit was filed in order to reach a compromise. Skinkis said that the layout of the tennis courts and the smaller parking lot represented a “fair offer” to all sides.
“The way we’ve shifted the courts and added the [grass] buffer, there’s no view of the lot to any resident on Hollywood Avenue,” Skinkis said. “We really thought this was a settlement beneficial to all parties.”
But the village rejected the plan, saying it would not agree to a parking lot with more than 45 spaces. In reaction, RBHS is reaching out to the communities it serves to apply a little pressure on Brookfield officials to accept the 63-space parking proposal.
Brookfield Village President Kit Ketchmark called the beefed up communications campaign by the high school a continuation of the school district’s “bullying of the village to get their way.”
Ketchmark called for the village, school district, Cook County and Brookfield Zoo to work together to come up with a parking solution. But, he said if the school district agreed to the 45-space lot, the matter would be settled and the village would be willing to give the district a long-term lease on its Rockefeller Avenue parking lot, “because they’re going to need Rockefeller one way or another.”
The school district’s lease of 110 parking spaces on Rockefeller Avenue expires in 2017 and those spaces are crucial to the school district’s parking plans. Brookfield has threatened to not renew the Rockefeller lease if the school district prevails in court.
Ketchmark also rejected the notion that the village isn’t willing to work with the high school to come to a compromise.
“Shortly after they filed suit, at our first court hearing, we asked if there was some way to work on an agreement,” said Ketchmark. “They didn’t say no; they said hell no. They had zero interest in any compromise. The reason that’s changed is the last court hearing, and they realized they hold the losing hand. To paint the village as not wanting to work together is patently ridiculous.”