Officials at Riverside-Brookfield High School have turned to a familiar face to help them convince the Cook County Forest Preserve District and Brookfield Zoo to soften their stance on allowing the high school to acquire athletic fields north of the school.

On July 16, the District 208 school board voted unanimously to hire Westbrook Strategic Consultants and pay the firm up to $21,000 a year to assist the school district with “government relations, zoning, permitting, storm water detention” and any other aspect of their ongoing talks with the county and zoo.

The man behind Westbrook Strategic Consultants is Jay Dalicandro, who served for six months in 2018 as a management consultant for the village of Brookfield while officials there searched for a new village manager.

District 208 Superintendent Kevin Skinkis, who got to know Dalicandro during that time, said he hopes RBHS can leverage Dalicandro’s network of contacts at the county and his experience managing special projects that involved negotiating with entities like Cook County and state agencies.

“He has that demeanor to get people to sit at the table and realize there’s a win-win,” said Skinkis.

Dalicandro served as village manager of Elmwood Park for 23 years before retiring in 2012. During that entire time, he worked alongside former longtime Village President Peter Silvestri, who continues to serve as a Cook County commissioner. 

In that capacity, Silvestri also serves as commissioner of the Cook County Forest Preserve District, which owns the land north of RBHS as well as the land managed by the Chicago Zoological Society.

Skinkis said he and Dalicandro have a meeting scheduled with Silvestri and Cook County Commissioner Jeffrey Tobolski, whose district includes Brookfield Zoo.

For the past couple of years, RBHS has been trying to convince the county and Brookfield Zoo to cede the land north of the school, which is used for high school athletic field when the zoo isn’t using it for overflow parking, to District 208.

The land-locked school district wants full-time access to those fields and is also looking for a way to find a permanent solution for staff parking. RBHS uses a lot north of the school, adjacent to the athletic fields, for staff parking. But that lot at times is also commandeered by Brookfield Zoo on busy days.

“I’m hoping Jay can help us navigate that a little bit better, and help getting them to see that it’s better for all of the taxpayers of the local community,” Skinkis said.

Skinkis said he hoped Dalicandro might be able to suggest solutions that haven’t been considered yet and help the school district make some headway on negotiations.

“I don’t think we’re any closer than we were a year ago,” said Skinkis. “But with this spring as wet as it was and with Jay giving us ideas, I think people are willing to revisit this. They’re willing to sit around the table a little more.”

According to the terms of the agreement approved by the school board last week, Dalicandro will be paid $175 an hour while working no more than 10 hours in any month, unless agreed to in writing