Lyons-Brookfield School District 103 paid $10,000 to hold the George Washington Middle School graduation ceremony at SeatGeek Stadium in Bridgeview last month.
On June 22, the District 103 Board of Education approved a bill of $9,114.27 from the village of Bridgeview which owns SeatGeek Stadium. The school district also apparently paid Warrenville-based TruFocus Productions $1,635 to make and livestream a video of the graduation ceremony.
That video, which is now posted on YouTube, is marred by poor sound quality, feedback and some curse words uttered by technicians who apparently didn’t realize that their voices were audible on the livestream.
Former school board member Marge Hubacek said that she was shocked by the cost of renting SeatGeek Stadium and said she suspected that the choice of the venue was influenced by politics.
Bridgeview Mayor Steve Landek, who is also a state senator, is a political ally of Lyons Village President Christopher Getty, who backed all the current members of the District 103 school board.
“I thought almost $10,000 was ridiculous,” Hubacek said. “It’s all political.”
Like many other school districts, District 103 officials chose to have their graduation ceremony outdoors because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It was such a challenge because if we would have had to do it in the gym, doing any sort of social distancing, we would have never been able to have done the whole class at the same time with parents,” said George Washington Middle School Principal Carol Baker. “I feel really grateful that we were able to do it at the stadium and have all the kids and all the parents at the same time.”
Other local schools, such as L.J. Hauser Junior High School in Riverside and S.E. Gross Middle School I Brookfield were able to hold outdoor graduation ceremonies at a fraction of the cost that District 103 paid.
Both the Hauser and Gross graduations were held at Martin Kennelly Athletic Complex at Riverside-Brookfield High School. RBHS only charged for the cost of providing security and provided the stadium rent-free. The middle schools had to provide their own chairs and sound system. Brookfield, LaGrange Park District 95 Superintendent Mark Kuzniewski estimated that it cost District 95 about $1,600 to hold its graduation at RBHS.
Park Junior High School in LaGrange held its graduation indoors at the school in four shifts over two days to promote social distancing.
SeatGeek Stadium, which used to be known as Toyota Park, is located at 71st Street and Harlem Avenue and was completed in 2006. It was built to be the home of the Chicago Fire soccer team. But after playing at the stadium for more than a decade, the Fire bought out their lease in 2019 and now play at Soldier Field.
The stadium has a capacity of approximately 20,000 people so the 250 or so graduates and the four guests for each graduate had ample room to spread out and remain socially distant from other families.
The $9,114.27 in rent was no doubt a welcome bit of revenue for the stadium which, although it is still hosts the Chicago Red Stars professional women’s soccer team, is looking for any revenue it can get. Bridgeview is trying to also market the stadium as music venue.
The stadium has proved to be a something of a financial albatross for Bridgeview. According to published reports, the village has borrowed up to $260 million to build and operate the stadium, and in 2017 the village’s bond rating was downgraded to junk status.