It's uncertain if any of the exterior renovations will be done at Roosevelt Middle School this year.
With long delays in the planning and approval process for the renovations, a group of parents is now urging the District 90 school board and administration to institute temporary measures that they say will address health and safety concerns for their children.
Several parents on Monday presented a letter signed by more than 60 residents proposing a range of interim solutions that they say are low cost and easy to implement.
The letter, along with some supporting material, was given to the board during the July 21 board meeting; it came after more than two and one-half years of waiting during which three board-approved iterations stalled, mostly over issues of parking.
"The response to our letter should be a wake-up call to the…Board of Education," Becca Kaufman told the board. "There is a frustration about words not accompanied by actions."
Specifically, parents are asking the district to close down a portion of the North parking lot (which would mean removing 16 parking spots) and use temporary cement barriers to allow the main entrance to become a secure entrance and exit for students. Temporary fencing also should be installed to narrow the North lot to create a mid-block crossing for the River Forest Public Library, according to the group.
To address long-standing concerns over seepage and recurring flooding in the basement, which can result in mold, parents urged the board to "redirect the downspouts away from the building's foundation using hoses temporarily to bring the runoff to the street to keep Roosevelt's basement dry and mold free until permanent storm water management can be enacted," the letter states.
To focus on concerns about a lack of outdoor recess at the middle school, parents urged the district to revisit an offer made by the library to allow students to use its garden for recess. They also urged the administration to ask the River Forest Park District to revisit an offer to create play space on the north side of the garden with a rubberized surface, swing set and climbing structure. These offers were made more than once at park district, library, and school board meetings, the letter states.
The letter goes on to state that this would "provide additional black top-only outdoor space for year-around recess for the entire student body and provide safe passage 24/7 for all pedestrians to and from the school, gym, River Forest Park District property and the River Forest Public Library."
Armed with research and a state taskforce report noting that recess improves classroom performance and provides a wealth of health outcomes, Mary Vanker, one of the parents who drafted the letter, wondered why Roosevelt Middle School lagged behind the taskforce recommendation. "Why can't the students at Roosevelt have daily outdoor recess? You must choose kids over cars and bring back outdoor recess for every child."
While recurrent flooding and ongoing seepage do make vigilant housekeeping a necessity, Suzanne Morrison, one of the parents who helped draft the letter, said later that "of equal importance is addressing a parking lot with a record of documented accidents, providing children 'black-top-only" recess when park fields are closed, and preserving the option for future full-time use of the school's security doors," she said.
Fewer than 80 residents received the letter and more than 60 people signed in a 48-hour period, according to organizers.
"We were really happy with the immediate response," Vanker said. "The responses were supportive, encouraging. The few who said no said that they agreed that the problems we identified need to be solved and several said that they would write separately to the board."
District 90 Superintendent Ed Condon said administrators would review the letter in detail and look at the recommendations to consider whether there were ways to improve what the district already was doing.
"Any time stakeholders take the time to communicate and make suggestions it's important to take the time to consider it," Condon said. "If any suggestions are deemed appropriate and will further the measures we've already taken we will want to look at them more carefully."
Condon noted that as to mold, a firm conducted a recent environmental study of the basement and found no visible mold present. Parents said they wanted to ensure that the district was diligent in handling the problem and coming up with a remediation plan that will keep all mold out of the basement.
The latest redesign came after two-and-one-half years of discussion. In June 2012 the board approved moving forward to develop an exterior renovation plan. That plan was tabled in March 2013 to garner more community input. The planning committee was reconvened with new members in November 2013; a plan from that group was approved by a 5-2 vote in December 2013.
From there, it went to the village government's Development Review Board. But the district went back to the drawing board in March after a number of residents voiced concerns that parking and congestion would diminish property values around the school and make it more dangerous for children and pedestrians.
Then shortly before school break later that month, village, school, library and park district elected leaders over two hours forged a proposal that would satisfy village requirements on parking and, at the same time, begin to address long-standing concerns about parking and traffic around the school.
That proposal was approved by the school board in April. The project was set to go before the DRB when the school board decided to hold off on a hearing until they could see the results of the village's traffic and parking study. At least one school board member said the findings were independent of the district's project. That report is not yet available. Some neighbors also complained that the effort as it was configured would be detrimental to their quality of life.
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