Cook County Commissioner Sean Morrison (R-17th) and the elected officials of six units of local government are calling on the Lyons Township High School District 204 Board of Education to redraft the bid terms for the possible sale of undeveloped land LTHS owns in Willow Springs to make clear that any purchaser will have to abide by the existing zoning which allows only residential, retail or senior housing.
In a letter to the LTHS school board, read by Arlene Cabana the president of the Pleasantdale School District 107 Board of Education at the LTHS school board meeting on Feb. 21, Morrison and the elected officials of Pleasantdale School District 107 Board of Education, the Pleasant Dale Park District Board of Commissioners, the mayors and city councils of Countryside, Burr Ridge, Indian Head Park and Willow Springs also called on LTHS to reappraise the land and to set a new minimum bid price in line with permitted uses.
The current minimum price is $55 million, but the school board has been discussing the price in closed session.
In January, LTHS’s $55 million sale to an industrial developer of the approximately 70-acre parcel at 79th Street and Willow Springs Road fell through after intense opposition from residents who live near the site and after the Willow Springs officials made clear that they wouldn’t change the zoning.
Since the land is in Willow Springs, the village board has the ultimate authority to determine what can built on the land.
The LTHS school board meeting on Feb. 21 was the third consecutive with a large crowd, more than 100, who turned out to oppose a sale to an industrial buyer.
Twenty-four people, 19 in person, addressed the school board for about 75 minutes. All but two, neither of whom spoke in person, but instead submitted written statements, opposed selling the land to an industrial buyer.
Public officials speaking out included a Burr Ridge Village Council member, a Countryside alderman and another member of the Pleasantdale school board. Countryside Ald. John Van Drasek called for preserving the land as open space and said that Countryside Mayor Sean McDermott would work with LTHS to have some public body purchase the land.
Parents of children who attend Pleasantdale Elementary School, which sits just west of the LTHS property, said they were concerned about the health effects on school children that would be caused by any industrial use of the land.
“It’s time for this board to acknowledge the science, take accountability and change course on the Willow Springs land,” said Jennifer Houch, a Pleasantdale parent. “Industrial builds don’t belong next to schools. After controlling for other variables, studies show report a higher percentage of students at schools near industrial facilities fail to meet state standards.”
Houch said that children who spend a lot of time near industrial or heavy traffic areas suffer from a range of adverse health effects.
“How many kids are you comfortable with getting cancer for $55 million,” Houch asked.
The type of industrial development that the prospective buyer planned to develop is not known.
Stephanie Farmer said that while she has been generally supportive of the school board, she is against selling the land to an industrial developer. Farmer said those opposing the sale of the land to an industrial developer were a bipartisan coalition who had no malicious intent.
“I’ve applauded you for doing what was necessary to keep our students safe, for wanting all students to feel seen and included and for trying to implement data-driven practices to improve student outcomes,” Farmer told the school board. “However, I’m highly disappointed and I’m against this board selling 71 acres in Willow Springs to any industrial company.”
Mario Imbarrato accused the LTHS board of creating divisiveness and pitting the rest of the district against the Willow Springs area by saying it must look out for the interests of all the communities in the district, not just one.
“Your own words have intentionally segmented us into 11 communities, one of which is sacrificed in your proposal and 10 of which you’re trying to convince about the greater good,” Imbarrato said. “The fact is there is only one community with a shared good.”
District 204 school board candidate and LaGrange resident Justin Clark called for the school board to take the land off the market for the time being. Clark, an assistant principal at Richards High School, said the past couple of years have been difficult for students and educators and noted that divisive issues are being brought into schools as cannon fodder for political agendas.
“Over the last couple of years public schools have faced multiple forces that are trying to divide or cleave open our communities, students, parents and staff,” Clark said.
Clark said that taking the land off the market for now would promote healing and unity.
“To take a step back from the current proposal and open up dialogue with our neighbors would be an incredible step toward our school healing from the last couple of years, a last couple of years that has been violent to our public body,” Clark said.