Berwyn restaurant donates money to Irving School project

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By Marty Stempniak

Staff Reporter

A much-buzzed-about restaurant in Berwyn is donating a portion of its proceeds this month to help build an ambitious schoolyard project in Oak Park.

The PTO for Irving Elementary School, 1125 S. Cuyler Ave., is eyeing ambitious plans to transform the cracked blacktop at the school into an eco-friendly activity and play area. But it comes with a hefty price tag, about $3.25 million, according to the PTO.

District 97 has slotted about $500,000 in its budget for schoolyard upgrades at Irving. And organizers have raised about $50,000 thus far, and are exploring grants and other opportunities to close the funding gap.

Autre Monde Café, 6727 W. Roosevelt Road in Berwyn, is donating 10 percent of its Tuesday sales in March toward the Irving schoolyard project. The restaurant is owned by Oak Parkers John Aranza and Christine Tully Aranza, also the proprietors of nearby Horrorbles, and has garnered rave reviews in the local press. 

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Rainman from Oak Park  

Posted: March 15th, 2012 1:00 PM

"At the proposed new schoolyard, that means the turf playing field and playground will collect rainwater, either for evaporation back into the atmosphere or for distribution to a stream running toward the front of the school at 1125 S. Cuyler Ave." Source:


Posted: March 15th, 2012 11:40 AM

@education, I agree. Let's make sure that the school board comes up with its outlandish schemes and only forces we taxpayers to foot the bill. Let's keep those interlopers at bay, and force residents of Oak Park to pay for everything the school board wants and doesn't need.

education over fundraising  

Posted: March 15th, 2012 9:12 AM

Residents of OP elect a school board, who hire a superintendent, who hires faculty and staff, who are paid with our property taxes, all held accountable by the D97 educational mission and finite budgetary resources. It really bothers me when others find a need to intervene in this process with external fundraising which favors their personal agenda. Fundraising empowers those who attract or provide these funds, who are not held accountable to the D97 mission. Stop intervening.

Voice of Reason from OP  

Posted: March 15th, 2012 8:34 AM

Thanks, Jassen. I appreciate your perspective and your passion for so many worthy projects. It concerns me that as a community, we aren't clear with priorities which results in a mentality of "all things are important." I get concerned that a year ago you were on this Board advocating for higher taxes, and are back again with a new "project d'jour". The fact is that many OPers continue to struggle, and there are limited resources to tap. Still, best of luck with those grants and this project

Jassen Strokosch from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: March 14th, 2012 12:32 PM

@Voice of Reason, I can certainly understand you perspective. From my standpoint, this project doesn't have to be "this ONE THING" above all other efforts to be worthy of funding. Many of us contribute out time and efforts across a number of projects and they don't have to be mutually exclusive. Are there things more important than the outdoor space at a school? Sure. But if we fix all of them before turning our efforts to the schoolyard, it's time will never come. There will always be a lot of worthy projects to pursue. But sooner or later, this outdoor space will need to be done and I would like to see it done right and with as small an impact on the local tax payers as possible. D97 needs to, and will, do work at Irving regardless of the existence of the Schoolyard group. What the group is trying to do is stretch those dollars a lot farther. The EPA is going to award grants for water management projects to someone, thankfully we are competing for those dollars. There are many funding sources targeting youth fitness, accessible play and so on. We are in the mix and pursuing those dollars as well. I can certainly understand your feelings that there are some important issues facing the Village and our schools that need addressing. The difference is I don't see them as competition. Thanks again for sharing your perspective though. If you ever want a personal tour of the Irving Schoolyard or more info on the project, don't hesitate to reach out.

Jassen Strokosch from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: March 14th, 2012 12:05 PM

@Rainman, I am assuming your comment was meant to be funny? I can't even imagine what portion of this project could be construed as an artificial stream pumping water around to deal with runoff. There isn't now, nor has there ever been a portion of the plan calling for such a feature.

Voice of Reason from OP  

Posted: March 14th, 2012 6:02 AM

@Jassen: Thanks for your response. I'm glad that the project is broken into phases. But, really, when we look at the price tag, is this the most important thing that Irving School parents think that the community and potential donors should be putting over $3 million into over the next several years? This ONE THING is the difference-maker for our kids and the community worth all of your energy, efforts and funding from public/private industry?

Rainman from Oak Park  

Posted: March 13th, 2012 5:48 PM

The Patch article I saw said collected rainwater the artificial turf obviously cannot absorb will be routed to an artificial stream. I can't imagine a little trickle of water pumped in a circle could absorb that much water. And I can't imagine it's that 'green' to pump water in a circle 24/7 for the sake of effect. Honestly this sounds like green design for its own sake without any real practical benefit.

Done from Oak Park  

Posted: March 13th, 2012 1:32 PM

If I hear the phrase "do it for the children" one more time, I think I'm gonna hurl.

Jassen Strokosch from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: March 13th, 2012 8:26 AM

@Voice of Reason, you ask "why not upgrade the playground with the available funds rather than building the 'best most sustainable playground ever'" This is a long term project, broken into phases and available funding will drive what gets done. As funds are raised, a phases will be completed. This project was never envisioned as one big overhaul that would happen all at once. While I understand the concern that this might look like a "classic OP parental over-reach," I think when you put it in context, it looks fairly reasonable. This project is pretty much in-line with the standard around the country when replacing an old schoolyard. If you look at how urban schoolyards are already being replaced (Chicago, Boston, NY, Seattle take your pick), this is actually a plan that is similar to many completed projects. From a cost perspective, take a look at CPS which currently spends between $19 and $33 a sqft on schoolyard overhauls. This project would be around $24 sqft. This project also has tangible benefits beyond just the school. The sustainable aspects of this project, taking water out of the storm drain system primarily, is good for everyone, particularly when your talking about as much square footage as this project includes. The planned athletic field will also help address a huge need by the Park District that will be used by many residents across the Village. Thank you for your comments. The Schoolyard team strives to incorporate the feedback of the community in planning this project.

Voice of Reason from OP  

Posted: March 13th, 2012 6:55 AM

I salute the restaurant for giving to the cause, I salute the parents for raising private funds for the project. But, DadfromtheNorthSide, the project itself is a classic OP parental over-reach, IMHO. Why not upgrade the playground with the available funds rather than building the "best most sustainable playground ever"? And the "we're doing this for future generations and to attract families" seems more about justifying the project's cost than any form of reality. Just sayin'


Posted: March 12th, 2012 6:01 PM

I wish all the people that complaint about anything been done, as in this case, with a lot of work from parents, will tell what volunteering THEY have done. This is a lot work that should be commended considering that all the people behind it are doing it for the kids and families that will move to the area in the next twenty years. They are not getting paid, they are not asking to have taxes forgiven (like corps.lately), they are doing fundraising!! Don't be jealous. Just help or shut up.

Free Range Hipster Parents Should Be Caged! from oak park  

Posted: March 12th, 2012 2:47 PM

So, why again is the functional blacktop that has been there no longer acceptable and absolutely MUST be replaced with multi-million dollar state of the art sustainable playspace? It's no wonder our taxes are so high...people really don't know the difference between needs and wants anymore (especially when it comes to spending tax dollars that they feel they are entitled to). Good luck raising the private funds....the $250K from my taxes are more than I think this idea is worth.


Posted: March 12th, 2012 11:06 AM

considering how much we pay in taxes to D97, i think it's absolutely absurd that we are being asked to donate money for this project.

Q from Oak Park  

Posted: March 10th, 2012 10:03 PM

Everyone, go to to understand what the master plan is. It's more than just dirt and grass. It's a very luxurious "Playground". The restaurant is donating 10 percent of Tuesday's proceeds for the month. That's a great way to increase business on a Tuesday, so when the idea was brought to them, I'm sure someone said, "It's a win win proposition". Search out more businesses because they deserve an opportunity of increasing business too.


Posted: March 10th, 2012 3:08 PM

Thanks for the clarification, Jassen. I hope this fundraiser and other efforts at private funding are successful. @Q, I *thought* the funds had not yet been divided among the schools, and Jassen confirmed that to be the case.


Posted: March 10th, 2012 2:29 PM

I'm with Q.

Q from Oak Park  

Posted: March 10th, 2012 2:19 PM

The price is ridiculous. You can find companies to recycle the blacktop. You can rent equipment to remove and haul the blacktop away. You can buy soil and have it hauled it, and you can then put down sowed or seeds. Why so much money when people in Oak Park, like to believe they live in a simpler time when neighbors helped neighbors.

Q from Oak Park  

Posted: March 10th, 2012 2:17 PM

Kelly, instead of thinking the facts are wrong, do you know the facts are wrong as being fact? If you do know, then state it as fact.

Q from Oak Park  

Posted: March 10th, 2012 2:14 PM

justthefacts, the richer you are the more important you know the benefits of making a profit from a fundraiser. It's less income people who really want to do what is needed and will be fully giving of the project.

Jassen Strokosch from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: March 10th, 2012 2:08 PM

@Kelly, The district has set aside $2.5M towards outdoor improvements to be used across the entire district. How those funds will distributed has yet to be determined pending the completion of a needs analysis. The Irving project, which has applied for a number of grants and other funding sources, has asked for some commitment from the District because many such grants require a level of matching from the project owner. Also, it is important to keep in mind that $3.2M is the total for the entire project. The 'gap' is much smaller when you look at this project in phases, which is how it has always been planned. @whatever, the age of the playground is just one factor. Holmes will be getting a new playground regardless of what happens at Irving, they are not mutually exclusive project. The Irving project is a true master plan and the playground represents only a portion of it. @Done, from the beginning, this project has always moved forward with the intention of finding significant funding from sources other than our local taxing bodies. We have been very upfront with the D97 board and others that we know they don't have the funds to do everything that we would like to see done and hence why many volunteers have worked so hard to apply for many large grants, find other foundations and private sector funding sources that will make this project happen. While there are always those that will complain about any project, we believe this project is a great model for how citizens can work in a private/public partnership to get something done, without simply adding the burden to the local tax payers. I would encourage anyone to check out the website to learn more or send us an email and we would be happy to discuss it further.


Posted: March 10th, 2012 8:56 AM

I appreciate that you are publicizing this fundraising event, but I think you have your facts wrong. As I understand it, D97 set aside $500,000 for all schoolyards, not just Irving. Suggesting that D97 has set aside $500,000 makes the "gap" seem much smaller than it is. As you say, the cost is 3.25 million and 50,000 has been raised.


Posted: March 9th, 2012 8:04 PM

Oldest playground in OP is Holmes (north OP) but it looks like the attention/funds will be awarded to Irving. It's not because it is the oldest and we all knew it was blacktop when we bought our homes, but because we are the parents who were instrumental in getting the referendum passed. Booyah!


Posted: March 9th, 2012 7:30 PM

If it were a North Oak Park school there would have been a full fundraising effort quietly in place for months. Those same residents with the higher taxes would have rallied and raised the necessary funds without media.

Done from Oak Park  

Posted: March 9th, 2012 1:25 PM

I don't know the whole story behind this, but good for them. While we read comments from those who live in Oak Park about what a travesty this project is with taxpayer money, here's a restaurant - albeit with OP owners and possibly Irving residents - that will donate to the cause. I'd be willing to bet that if a north OP school had the same issue, we'd have already started work on the project. And maybe with bricks and heated sidewalks.

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