Back when Brookfield Zoo opened in 1934, the leaders at Riverside-Brookfield High School probably never dreamed that one day that the zoo would play such an important role in the school's future. Now the high school is engaged in a delicate dance with the zoo, which is owned by the Cook County Forest Preserve District.
The reason for the dance is that both Riverside-Brookfield High School and Brookfield Zoo are on the brink of launching large-scale changes to their campuses. And while the two institutions have bordered one another peacefully for 70 years, each has separate interests.
And Brookfield Zoo, a national attraction that takes in millions each year, holds most of the cards.
The trump card is the land the zoo owns directly north of RB. For years, the high school and zoo have lived by an informal handshake agreement that the high school could use the land for physical education classes and athletic fields at no cost to the school.
The only caveat has always been, when the zoo needs overflow parking, the school has to clear off the land. The school's been happy to comply.
In February, Cook County showed a bit of muscle and declared that RB was abusing public forest preserve land for its own benefit. And while zoo officials responded that they remained committed to working with the high school, the shot was fired.
It was an ominous development, even if it were merely part of a greater attempt by the Forest Preserve District to gain control of its own land and stop private individuals from profiting at the county's expense.
In light of last February's announcement by the county, the SEE program looks to be an exciting partnership between the high school and the zoo and appears to reconfirm each institution's commitment to one another. It's our hope the relationship will be beneficial to both institutions and will lead to greater cooperation in the future as both facilities consider expansion.
While Riverside-Brookfield High School is about to embark on a new interdisciplinary program for freshmen, it's sad to note that another of the school's ground-breaking programs is on the chopping block.
The Paw opened in 2003 to great fanfare. A place where students could get real-world training in the food service industry, The Paw looks as if it's going to succumb to the very market forces the program's teachers sought to illuminate for their students. The Paw was a money-losing proposition.
It can be argued whether schools should be involved in the restaurant business, but it can't be argued that The Paw wasn't a worthwhile longshot. Like so many young businesses, The Paw just didn't work out.
That's a lesson in life.