By Bob Skolnik
Close, but not quite there yet. That's the status of talks between Riverside Elementary School District 96 and the Hollywood Citizens Association (HCA) about the HCA's offer to lease more than 10,000 square feet of land west and north of the Hollywood House to D96 for the token rent of one dollar a year.
D96 wants to get control of the land just south of Hollywood School to build an expanded playground.
The HCA made its offer in October after rejecting an offer by D96 to buy and tear down the Hollywood House.
D96 recently made a counterproposal to the HCA's lease offer.
Last week D96 Superintendent Martha Ryan-Toye and HCA President Gonzo Schexnayder met over coffee for about 90 minutes at the Starbucks in Lyons to discuss the proposed lease.
"I think we're close," said Schexnayder after the meeting. "I think we just have to iron out a few final details and we'll see where it goes from there."
Neither Ryan-Toye nor Schexnayder would reveal the details of the district's counterproposal, but Ryan-Toye said the district's concerns centered on the length of the lease, some questions about playgrounds, and questions about the village of Brookfield requiring that the driveway from Washington Avenue to the Hollywood School parking lot be widened.
"It's not terribly different from what they presented to us," Ryan-Toye said of the district's counterproposal.
The HCA's offer, made on Oct. 1, proposed leasing the land to D96 for the rent of one dollar a year for 30 years with two 10-year options to renew the lease at market rates. The school district has concerns about what those rents would be in 30 years.
"We're still trying to decide the length and what would happen after 30 years," Ryan-Toye said.
Schexnayder said the two sides should not get hung up trying to guess what conditions will be like three decades from now.
"Let's not try to imagine what the people on the HCA and the school board are going to have to do in 30 years when we have a problem we can solve today," Schexnayder said. "And let's solve that problem today."
Ryan-Toye said the district still would like to buy the Hollywood House lot outright if the HCA ever decides it wants to sell.
Both Ryan-Toye and Schexnayder said they are optimistic that they will be able to reach an agreement.
"I do anticipate coming to an agreement," Ryan-Toye said. "It just has to be workable for both the HCA and District 96 and I think both groups are trying to think far into the future for the good of the area and serving children in that area and building a playground — and those things, as we try to anticipate a 30-year-plus future, can get complicated."
Schexnayder also said he was encouraged by progress on the talks.
"We're encouraged that the school board came closer to what we have offered than they had previously," Schexnayder said. "That's a good sign."
Schexnayder said that he is hopeful that an agreement can be reached soon.
"We have some small issues to iron out before we can move forward and we'll see what the school board says," he said.
Ryan-Toye said the district would very much like to build a small expansion to the back of Hollywood School, a multipurpose room, and install a new playground next summer when work will be done on the district's other three elementary schools, but an agreement with the HCA will have to be reached soon to allow time for bids to go out for work to be done this summer.
"My only concern is timeline," Ryan-Toye said. "I would very much like to see this work happen in 2020 and I know we're getting up very close to the timeline. We're getting very close to final, final deadlines, but we're going to keep working. I think we have the month of December to see what we can do and after that I think maybe things can still be negotiated but I'm not sure."
Ryan-Toye said a new playground for Hollywood School won't be built until an agreement is in place.