When officials at Brookfield-LaGrange Park School District 95 pitched a $20 million bond issue in 2017 to expand and renovate its two buildings, they did so promising the wider community greater access to the new facilities.
Later this month, the District 95 school board is expected to approve a deal with the village of Brookfield to formalize a handshake deal already in place to share their facilities.
The Brookfield Village Board voted unanimously on Jan. 27 to approve the intergovernmental agreement, which runs through June 30 and will be renewed annually every July 1 unless either party gives 60 days’ written notice to end the relationship.
“That was a pillar of our promise when we were going for referendum — to make the new facilities more available to the community,” said District 95 Superintendent Mark Kuzniewski. “We’re doing everything we said we’d do.”
Kuzniewski said that he’d wanted to strike an equitable facilities-sharing deal with the village for years, but that until recently, the village’s management had resisted. In the past, the village reportedly had a deal with the school district that allowed it to use the gym at S.E. Gross Middle School for free in exchange for the village mowing Madlin Park.
That “park,” an unimproved parcel of lawn at the intersection of Madison and Lincoln avenues, is jointly owned by the village and school district. Kuzniewski didn’t view that agreement as particularly equitable, but said the village’s openness to a new facilities-sharing agreement has changed under Village Manager Timothy Wiberg and with the hiring of Recreation Director Stevie Ferrari, who has been charged with increasing programming.
“I think we have the right people in the right place at the right time,” said Kuzniewski, “and the folks who will benefit are community members.”
Wiberg said the arrangement made sense from a logistical standpoint – each entity has facilities the other doesn’t – and from a commonsense one.
“We serve the same taxpayers, so it stands to reason that taxpayers should benefit from the facilities we have,” Wiberg said. “My hope is that this lays the foundation for other opportunities [for cooperation] in the future.”
According to the terms of the agreement, the village of Brookfield will be able to use school facilities at both S.E. Gross School and Brook Park School in LaGrange Park at no cost, seven days a week, when school classes are not being held.
The only time the village would be charged for use of a facility, said Kuzniewski, is if it uses a third-party to run a program on a weekend. In such cases, the school district would charge the village between $60 and $90 an hour for use of a recreational facility.
“We’re going to in-house programs where we can,” said Ferrari, who added a new full-time recreation staffer, who will take on more in-house programming, is slated to begin work later this month.
In exchange for use of its gym spaces, the school district will have its water bills at S.E. Gross School and the District 95 Central Office in Brookfield waived, an expense to the district that amounts to about $7,000 a year, Kuzniewski said.
The village will also provide expedited public works services within reasonable limits.
District 95 will be given priority use of Kiwanis Park, Ehlert Park and the lower-level recreation hall at the Brookfield Village Hall for no cost, although use of those facilities by the school district isn’t expected to amount to much.
Right now, the school district uses the lower-level rec hall one night a year for the S.E. Gross School eighth-grade dance and uses Ehlert Park for cross-country meets.
Brookfield has been using the two gymnasiums at S.E. Gross Middle School under this arrangement since the beginning of the 2019-20 school year, when the newly renovated and expanded schools reopened for classes.
Gym use at S.E. Gross School by Brookfield Parks and Rec during the fall was quite frequent, at least three to four weeknights every week and quite a few Saturdays, said Kuzniewski and Ferrari. That kind of use will continue in coming months with adult volleyball and basketball and youth dodgeball, volleyball, track and field and baseball fundamentals.
Brookfield Parks and Rec also used the Brook Park School gym last fall for its children’s theater program production of “Frozen Jr.”
Kuzniewski said community access to school district facilities goes beyond the recreation department’s use of the gyms. The Greater LaGrange YMCA rents gym space for basketball and the Brookfield Police Department recently used the old gym at S.E. Gross for self-defense training.
With the ability to isolate entry to the new gym at S.E. Gross Middle School, D95 no longer has to call off classes on Election Day, when the gym is used as a polling place.
Brookfield Trustee Brian Conroy, who was a member of the D95 school board when the referendum passed, called the agreement a win for taxpayers.
“You know, the taxpayers write one check,” Conroy said. “When the different taxing bodies can work together, knock down the silos and reinforce each other’s strengths and weaknesses and come together, we’re really creating value for the taxpayer.”