By Bob Skolnik
About 50 people attended a community forum at Hollywood School last week held by the Riverside Elementary School District 96 Board of Education to discuss ways to solve space issues at the cramped Hollywood School campus.
The school board wanted to get public input as it considers an offer from the Hollywood Citizens Association (HCA) to lease roughly 10,000 square feet of land west and north of the Hollywood House to the school district for the token cost of $1 a year.
The district could use that land to build a new playground to replace and probably enlarge the existing playground which now sits on HCA owned land just between Hollywood House and the school.
At the forum, which was technically a special meeting of the District 96 school board, Superintendent Martha Ryan-Toye presented the district's plan to build an approximately 1,000-square-feet multipurpose room on the back end of Hollywood School.
The addition would probably result in the loss of around 10 parking spots in the school's parking lot, leaving only 12 spaces for teachers and staff.
District officials are looking for ways to replace the parking spaces that would be lost by building the addition.
One spot that District 96 officials had eyed to make up for the parking spaces that would be lost as a result of the addition is land owned by the village of Brookfield just north of the intersection of Hollywood and Rockefeller avenues along a service road to the Brookfield Zoo.
But that idea was shot down at the forum by Brookfield Village President Kit Ketchmark, who is a resident of Hollywood.
Ketchmark said he was surprised that the Hollywood and Rockefeller location, which is adjacent to a recently expanded Riverside-Brookfield High School parking lot, was even presented as an option.
The village, he said, had already made it clear to the school district last year that Brookfield had no interest in putting another parking lot in that already congested area.
"The board was not interested in that," Ketchmark said, who made it clear that the village is not about to reconsider the idea.
"This is not on the table," Ketchmark said. "This isn't an option that's going to work."
After the meeting Ryan-Toye, who met recently with Brookfield Village Manager Timothy Wiberg to discuss the idea again, said that while she knew the village was not enthusiastic about putting another parking lot along Hollywood Avenue north of Rockefeller, she did not believe that she had received a definite no for an answer. She said she wasn't sure if Ketchmark was speaking at the forum for the entire village board.
But another Brookfield trustee, Michael Garvey, said in a telephone interview that he believes the entire village board agrees that adding a new parking lot along Rockefeller Ave. is not a good idea.
"We can't be the savior for every parking situation, especially when the problem is not of our creation," Garvey said. "We have to look out for our residents and our neighborhoods."
Ketchmark said that area around RBHS and Hollywood School is already congested on school days and he does not want to add more traffic to that already busy area.
District 96 officials have also suggested that perhaps Brookfield could allow some teachers to park in the 3400 block of Hollywood Avenue during the school day by creating designated parking spots or issuing stickers. Currently parking on Hollywood Avenue is limited to two hours.
Ketchmark said that while the village is willing to look at all options, most of Hollywood is limited to resident parking during parts of the day to prevent RBHS students from parking on Hollywood streets. He pointed that allowing all-day parking on Hollywood Avenue could make student pickup and drop-off more difficult.
After listening to an initial presentation by Ryan-Toye attendees were encouraged to discuss options and offer additional ideas.
Some District 96 officials expressed concern that the 30-year lease offered by the HCA could, under the proposal, only be renewed at market rates and that those new rates could end up being very costly for the school district.
But Hollywood resident Michael Kayse said school officials should have more faith in the HCA and the Hollywood community.
"I'm a little troubled that you don't trust us that in 30 years we're not going to screw you," Kayse said.
District officials and Hollywood residents both want to improve what they say is an outdated playground, saying that the equipment is old and dangerous.
"The current state of the playground is godawful," said Sue Gersch, a former president of the Hollywood PTA. "Let's do something about that awful equipment."
In June, District 96 offered to buy the Hollywood House property for $350,000 with the intention to tear the nearly 100-year-old house structure and use the land for a larger playground and expanded parking.
The HCA rejected that offer and instead offered to lease land north and west of the house to the district for use as a playground.
Ryan-Toye assured anxious residents that tearing down the Hollywood House is no longer an option.
"It's not our goal to tear down the house," Ryan-Toye said.
Ryan-Toye and school board President Dan Hunt said after the meeting that they appreciated the community input.
"We will consider all of this and eventually respond to the HCA," Ryan-Toye said.
Hunt said that the meeting was useful.
"We had a lot of people that are understanding some of the problems we have with the offer that's currently on the table, and are sympathetic to that, and we definitely appreciate that," Hunt said.
The school board will have to make up its mind fairly soon if they want to build the addition and a new playground next summer.
"I don't know at which point summer of 2020 slips out of our hands as an option, but we're getting near to that," Ryan-Toye said.
Some called upon the school district to just accept the HCA's offer.
"It feels like the HCA is a very willing partner," said Hollywood resident Matt Johnson near the end of the meeting. "They have in the past and present essentially donated use of land, their land, for the use of the Hollywood School community.
"They have once again offered the use of their land in a nearly free capacity. It's clear that this is not the land the board wants, but, not to be rude, beggars can't be choosers."
Gonzo Schexnayder, the president of the HCA, said that he didn't hear much new during the meeting.
"I think it was representative of everything the HCA has been hearing for weeks," Schexnayder said. "There's an option there to work with the school board and provide a better playground without having to sell the land or tear down the house."