River Forest Elementary School District 90 must file an economic impact statement as part of the application it anticipates filing with the village on the exterior renovations at Roosevelt Middle School.

Before a packed community room at village hall, the River Forest Development Review Board failed to muster a second on a motion waiving the requirement for the district after a number of residents voiced concerns that parking and congestion will diminish property values around the school and make it more dangerous for children and pedestrians.

Failing to get a second to the motion means that the matter dies at the board table and cannot be acted on.

While characterizing the board’s rejection as “unanticipated,” D90 Superintendent Ed Condon said he believes the district will meet the March 14 deadline to file its application. 

“We are working on investigating those requirements as soon as possible,” Condon said. “The school district is endeavoring to put forward a responsible petition and meet all the requirements.”

In addition, D90 will attempt to address as many of the concerns as possible during a resident meeting, scheduled for 7 p.m., March 12 at Roosevelt Middle School.  

A formal hearing is scheduled for 7:30 p.m., April 3, at Roosevelt.

The request for the waiver was presented during a pre-filing meeting, an informal session where the district presented its plans for Roosevelt before the development review board. The hearing was part of a series of required meetings that will help determine whether the board should recommend to River Forest trustees that the project move ahead.

District officials told the DRB that the $1.3 million project would reconfigure the site and improve functionality, way finding, and appearance. A plaza area and gathering space would be added by the north parking lot. 

That lot would allow for 20 parking spaces for staff only and would be closed during the school day. The lot along Lathrop Avenue would be reconfigured, allowing for 11 short-term parking spaces for guests. 

A library book drop-off area with driver’s side access would be added, said Jerry Pilipowicz, a project manager with Terra Engineering, the Chicago-based firm working on the effort. Five striped spots would be added in the circular driveway in front of school. Bicycle parking areas would be set aside on Oak Avenue and near the gymnasium. Better directional signs and ornamental lighting would be installed. Landscaping would be plentiful and would improve drainage on the site.

The project was in the planning and discussion stage for two years before the school board approved it in December. The district is targeting the project to be completed this summer.  

Residents like Mary Vanker, a member of the subcommittee that worked on the project, noted that a lot of people worked tirelessly to “create a solution to our worn-out grounds around the school.” The changes, she said, “uphold village standards, promote public safety, preservation of property values and the general welfare of the village.”

Suzanne Morrison hoped that safety would trump convenience and that the North lot — a center of much of the controversy surrounding the project — had to be reconfigured. 

“This lot at the school,” Morrison said, “is heavily used by many of the vulnerable people in our community — our children.”

But many who spoke against the renovations feared that, when completed, they would increase traffic congestion, especially if there are a lot of events at the venues surrounding the school. 

A couple of residents asked why zoning was ignored in the materials sent to the DRB. Ed Voci commented that more on-street parking around the school is an economic detriment. One parent wondered aloud about a beautification project that would result in more parking and cars out in front of the school.

And some questioned the safety aspect of the project. Gina Voci, who also was on the subcommittee, suggested that the new parking lot configurations would not provide the ability for students to easily move through traffic. 

“The new configuration [in the North lot],” she said, “would create a lovely and enticing gathering space for students before or after school — right next to a parking lot. We are taking an area that is not conducive for students to be and put them right next to the parking lot. … All we are asking is that you hold the school district to the same standards that you hold those of us in the community.”  

The hearings are necessary because D90 is seeking an amendment to a planned development permit granted in 1997 on renovations to the school’s gymnasium. 

The final decision on allowing the project to go forward will rest with River Forest trustees.

Contact: deb@oakpark.com

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