As Roosevelt School debate grows heated, board slows

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By Deb Kadin

River Forest District 90 may be "flexible" on the point of deciding by December whether to renovate the exterior of Roosevelt Middle School, the school board president said Monday night.

After a nearly two-hour community forum, Patrick Meyer, the board president, said that while the end of the year was still the district's goal for making a decision, there were a number of elements that needed to be addressed before the school board took a vote.

"We're still in the information gathering stage," said Meyer during the forum, conducted in the school's auditorium.

The project has been on the drawing boards for nearly two years and was tabled for a time. After the group reconvened, there were still questions about the scope and cost of the project.

It had been scaled back to $1.13 million and will focus on making the campus safer, dealing with drainage in the north parking lot, improving signage, lighting and other features.

As part of that he noted that the panel will study concerns that were raised during the forum, attended by more than 120 people.

First the district, which has had discussions with the adjacent River Forest Public Library about parking, may approach its neighbors about using the Anne Smedinghoff Garden as a gathering space for 7th and 8th graders instead of a congregating area at the east end of the north lot.

In addition, the seven-member committee that drafted the plan may be expanded to represent more points of view, including that of students and likely seniors.

Adding students was a suggestion from Gabriel Schonman, an 8th grader at Roosevelt who said while the project was nice, and he understood the concerns of seniors, staff and parents about parking, he thought "students should have input into the process."

"I'm not sure how many others we will put on, we want to include all different points of view," Meyer said. "We need to do a better job of addressing their needs."

And then there's parking, perhaps a key issue in the $1.13 million project. The district wants to reduce the number of spots in the north lot – between the school's main door and the library - from 36 to 20.

That issue seemed to be the biggest concern to seniors, whose advocates said that their needs should not be set aside.

"That parking lot (the north lot) is a community resource held in trust for the community and to be used for public purposes," said Al Popowitz. "Please consider the point of view of the seniors who contribute to the upkeep of the school."

A remaining issue that has continued to galvanize opposition is the price tag and the need to spend more than a million dollars when there were other pressing issues in front of the district, including negotiations with the teachers' union.

Some thought the district should break out the funds for needed projects and the extras. Jim Lucci said the district needed to deal with the "mud pit" on the northeast corner of the building. He thought that adding permeable pavers would be one solution to the drainage there.

Others in the crowd noted that at a time when there were people in the community who were in need, the project seemed extravagant.

"Be mindful that not everyone in the community has this kind of money," said Patty Henek. "Forty people in River Forest have been referred to the Holiday Food and Gift Basket (program).

Seventeen of them are students from Roosevelt. They don't have the means to spend this kind of money."

Meyer admitted that this issue has galvanized the community to action – and it has been a polarizing one, particularly during the last two weeks. He acknowledged that the board was caught off-guard by the extent of the response.

This is the third scheduled forum on the project held during the last three months.

After this round of information gathering is concluded, he said, "we will reconvene the subcommittee and fine tune the proposal. The board will review it and decide whether we will expedite it, whether there will be no project or it will become something in between. We have not made up our minds."

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