Here at the Landmark, we’re all for the conservation of forested areas woven through the fabric of Brookfield, Riverside and North Riverside. They are no less than treasures and provide welcome respite from the otherwise unrelenting urbanity of Chicago’s inner ring suburbs.
With one exception.
Due to the quirks of history and location, Riverside-Brookfield High School has a very tiny campus with very few amenities it actually owns outside of the school building itself. Heck, half of its front lawn belongs to the village of Riverside and its parking lots belong variously to Brookfield Zoo and the village of Brookfield.
Yes, the school district owns the football stadium/track, tennis courts and a couple of small track-and-field pits west of Golf Road, but that’s it. That field north of the school, the one with the baseball diamonds? That land belongs to the Cook County Forest Preserve District, and the school district pays a handsome sum annually — last year it was north of $20,000 — to use it and a parking lot.
Even then, the use is grudging.
On nice spring and summer days, Brookfield Zoo uses the parking lot and athletic fields for overflow parking, even when there’s something going on at the parking-bereft high school. If crowds at the zoo demand it, the school must give way.
As a result, RBHS has made deals with Brookfield and North Riverside to use their fields for practices and games for all levels and types of outdoor sports, putting them in competition with other organizations.
It’s more complicated that it needs to be.
We don’t know why the school district didn’t move years ago to try to acquire the property north of the campus from the Forest Preserves, when it might have been an easier sell.
Probably because it really didn’t need to. Brookfield Zoo didn’t always draw a million cars to its gates every year.
The zoo needs parking and the school needs accessible athletic fields. Both entities recently worked out a plan to make that happen — the high school has even set aside about $3 million to pay for it — but the Forest Preserves stepped in and put a kibosh on it.
There are scores of very old oak trees they’d like to preserve, which we can understand. It seems, however, that if the Forest Preserves would like to preserve the trees and also provide Brookfield Zoo with the parking it needs, it could do a little more to help come up with a solution.
It’s not like cars running all over that land on busy days at the zoo is a conservation strategy. Neither the zoo nor the high school is going anywhere, and this problem is going to remain.
It doesn’t seem like the biggest conundrum any of these entities has ever faced. But, if there’s going to be a solution, the Forest Preserves are going to have to take a more active role. It’s something they ought to want to do as the landlord of the zoo and as a good neighbor, for the past century, of the high school.