By Bob Uphues
As Riverside Elementary School District 96 officials continue their quest for offsite faculty parking near Hollywood School in Brookfield, Superintendent Martha Ryan-Toye directly appealed to the village board last week for help.
At the village board's committee of the whole meeting on Dec. 9, Ryan-Toye reiterated District 96's goal of separating parking and play spaces at its schools, and asked the village board to consider allowing as many as 20 on-street parking spaces to be created for staff along the east side of the 3400 block of Hollywood Avenue.
"On any given day, 20 seems to be the right number," said Ryan-Toye of the school's need for staff parking. "We're trying to look at how do we maximize our opportunities and our goals and work with all of our neighbors."
However, acting on a suggestion from Village Trustee Brian Conroy, Ryan-Toye may have found a solution in the form of the Brookfield Zoo.
Conroy suggested that Ryan-Toye approach the Chicago Zoological Society to see if District 96 might be able to rent 20 spaces in the southwest corner of Brookfield Zoo's south parking lot during the school year, when the zoo is less crowded during the week.
Conroy noted that the zoo rents spaces in that lot to Riverside-Brookfield High School students from Oct. 1 through March 31. RBHS Superintendent Kevin Skinkis confirmed that about 60-65 students rent spaces in the lot during that six-month period.
"Would that be a viable option?" Conroy asked.
Ryan-Toye said she would approach zoo officials about a possible arrangement, and late last week a spokeswoman for the Chicago Zoological Society said that Ryan-Toye and CZS President and CEO Stuart Strahl were working on a potential deal.
"He has been in contact with the superintendent," said Sondra Katzen, the zoo's director of public relations. "They are in conversations and are working toward a solution."
At the present time, Hollywood School staff park in a small lot behind the building, just north of the property owned by the Hollywood Citizens Association, with whom District 96 is negotiating a lease agreement for use of land north and west of the Hollywood Community House.
The school district initially offered to buy the entire property and knock down the Hollywood House to accommodate a parking lot, separate play area and a planned addition to Hollywood School.
The Hollywood Citizens Association countered with a lease offer for land north and west of Hollywood House – with a condition that it can't be used to increase onsite parking.
The two entities are trying to come to an agreement on some sort of lease deal and say they're optimistic.
But an agreement along the lines of the HCA proposal really doesn't solve Hollywood School's parking issue.
Ryan-Toye told village officials that the school district was flexible with respect to the number of on-street parking spaces, but they said they preferred a solution that didn't involve putting cars along the east side of Hollywood Avenue, where it gets congested enough during student drop-off and pickup times.
At the very least, village officials didn't appear receptive to any on-street parking directly in front of Hollywood School, which would eliminate about eight spaces.
"It's congested as it is now, and if we allow parking there, you'd imagine double parking and kids cutting in between cars," said Police Chief Edward Petrak. "It just doesn't seem like a safe thing to do."
Trustees generally agreed that the school district should make the attempt to work out an arrangement with the zoo before seeking the village's help to solve the problem with on-street parking.
"I don't think there's going to be too many days where the zoo is packed on a school day from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. during those months," said Trustee Michael Garvey. "I'd like to see them approached. … It always seems like we're the parking solution for RB and everyone else, but we have residents over there whose lives are impacted."
Trustee Katie Kaluzny wondered if it might be possible to allow staff to park on Hollywood Avenue in what is now the grass parkway on the east side of the street, although she expressed concern about eliminating greenspace in the process.
Such an arrangement, similar to the situation at Brook Park School, would eliminate some of the safety concerns surrounding drop-off and pickup.
But Garvey reiterated his preference, supported by fellow trustees, that the zoo option appeared the best one.
"I'd like to see other options excluded first," Garvey said. "[Renting spots from the zoo] would be the best solution for safety, for our residents and I think it would solve the school's problem."