Irving landscape redo might benefit from Oak Park referendum

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By Terry Dean

Staff reporter

Parents from Irving School updated the District 97 Board of Education, Nov. 16, concerning their plans to transform the large blacktop space at 1125 S. Cuyler into green space featuring a play lot, athletic fields and an upgraded parking lot.

A group of parents, including some with a background in architecture, have been heading the two-year-old project. They've raised about $8,000 toward a goal of $16,000 to pay a private engineering firm to develop a master plan, based on the group's own designs and ideas.

The district's planned referendum next spring, aiming at a $75 million working cash bond sale, will be used, in part, to pay for capital improvements, including building and grounds projects, school officials say.

Irving would top that list because it has the least amount of green space compared to the other Oak Park elementary schools. The blacktop, stretching from Harvard Street to a row of houses just off Fillmore along Ridgeland Avenue, has existed for decades and forms a very non-descript play area for students.

Parents last Tuesday asked the board for a green light to pay the engineer with the hope that some portion of the project would actually begin construction next summer, in the event that grants being pursued would help pay for the project.

Peter Traczyk, president of the Dist. 97 board, expressed board support but could not say how much of the referendum funding, if passed, would go toward the project. Supt. Albert Roberts said Irving definitely needs to improve its playground but cautioned that the district is bound by state rules and regulations concerning capital projects and competitive bidding. Anything done to the school grounds, he added, would have to be approved by the board and overseen by administration. Roberts, though, said he supports Irving's project.

The superintendent has proposed that the district spend about $2.8 million through 2018 — the life of the bond issuance — on schoolyards, out of roughly $10 million spent overall on capital projects. As for the $16,000 for the engineer, Traczyk said he'd support the district chipping in half of that amount, noting that the district's finances are strained but that $8,000 wouldn't break the bank.

Parents, meanwhile, said they could not come up with an accurate cost of the project until receiving a master plan. The board, Roberts and parents agreed to continue working toward a solution.

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