Riverside Elementary School District 96 has nailed down a long-term solution for separating play and parking areas at Hollywood School in Brookfield, with school board members voting 6 to 1 on Aug. 19 to approve a long-desired lease agreement with the Hollywood Citizens Association (HCA).

The 30-year lease gives District 96 access to about 10,300-square-feet of land north and west of the Hollywood House for the sum of $1 a year. The land sits immediately south of Hollywood School, 3423 Hollywood Ave., and a portion of it has served for years as a playground used by students.

The agreement concludes more than a year of negotiations between the two entities, which began in June 2019 with an unsolicited offer by District 96 to buy the HCA property outright.

“It an imperfect agreement, which is definitely why it took so long to hammer out,” said District 96 school board president Dan Hunt. “But I do think overall it’s a very positive agreement, a great agreement to have, and it opens up so many possibilities for Hollywood School.”

HCA President Gonzo Schexnayder in a press release called the lease agreement a “win-win” for the two entities, with the resulting playground becoming “a valuable asset for Hollywood School students and the entire community.”

“The HCA preserves the historic Hollywood House property as a community resource, the school board achieves their objectives for separating play and parking and Hollywood Elementary children will get an expanded playground and more green play spaces,” said Schexnayder in the press release.

The lease will allow the school district to roughly triple the amount of open space students can use as a play area, and it also includes formal access to the driveway that runs along the Hollywood Community Association’s east property line from Washington Avenue to the Hollywood School parking lot.

While the rent on the property is nominal, the lease requires the school district to shoulder all of the cost for improving and maintaining the leased property. The deal also calls for District 96 to pay the HCA’s legal and title fee costs, up to $7,500, for negotiating the deal.

According to the terms of the lease, the school district has agreed to improve and expand the width of the driveway from 12 to 20 feet at its own expense. The lease gives the HCA permission to use the school parking lot when classes are not in session and the school district is responsible for maintaining and snow-plowing the driveway.

While the lease states that the school district “will consult and seek input” from the HCA regarding playground improvements it plans to make, the school district has sole discretion over the final design.

School board member David Barsotti, a resident of the Hollywood neighborhood, cast the lone vote against the lease, saying it was one-sided and amounted to a taxpayer giveaway to the HCA.

“People may think the HCA is being magnanimous in granting this lease; however, the HCA is receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxpayers’ money,” Barsotti said prior to casting his vote. “The benefits that will be made to leased land will equally benefit the HCA and the school, but provide the HCA with an improved driveway, better parking and a playground for the residents.”

Barsotti also complained that the school district is accepting more liability in the agreement than the HCA.

“This lease provide far more protection to the HCA than it does to the district,” Barsotti said, referring to a clause in the deal that says the school district will indemnify the HCA under all circumstances, while the HCA will indemnify the school district only if a claim arises from the HCA’s negligence or willful misconduct.

Barsotti also expressed frustration at the HCA’s unwillingness to offer the school district the right of first refusal if the HCA ever decides to sell the property in the future.

“[It] only solidifies that they are using the district moneys to improve their property at taxpayer expense,” Barsotti said. “By signing this lease, the district will assume an unequal amount of risk without having an equal amount of say.”

As for the right-of-first-refusal issue, Schexnayder told the Landmark in an email, “The HCA board didn’t want a future school board to determine what a future HCA board could do with the Hollywood House.

“Neither the HCA board nor the Hollywood House are a part of the D96 school board. The HCA board’s allegiance is to the house and the land it sits on, the kids at Hollywood Elementary and the Hollywood neighborhood.”

Barsotti’s colleagues on the school board, while acknowledging those issues, were enthusiastic to approve the lease.

“This is a very exciting foundational step for a really great addition to the Hollywood community,” said school board member Lynda Murphy.

The lease deal paves the way for not only the construction of a new, expanded playground and wider driveway, it also will allow the school district to build a multipurpose room addition onto Hollywood School.

The multipurpose room, which will serve as a lunchroom, music room and space for multi-grade level activities, will occupy part of what is now the school’s parking lot, which has done double duty as both a place for cars and as an outdoor play space for Hollywood school students.

District 96 Superintendent Martha Ryan-Toye said the playground and driveway improvements, as well as construction of the Hollywood School addition, will be completed in summer 2021.

But, there’s still more work to do in finalizing plans for the playground and also solving the parking issue. While the school district will now be able to separate parking and play spaces, the construction of the multipurpose room will eliminate some parking spaces from the existing lot.

The school district has been consulting with the village of Brookfield and Brookfield Zoo on possible alternatives to help solve that parking shortfall.

“The lease with the HCA is a great step, but we have more to resolve before making this a reality,” said Ryan-Toye in an email.

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