River Forest’s District 90 school board Monday agreed to its third major design of exterior renovations at Roosevelt Middle School and will file an application for village review early next month.

After a marathon meeting, lengthy public comment and plenty of questions interspersed throughout, the board narrowly approved the $1.271 million project, which will give the landlocked area around the school, the library and Centennial Park the feel of a campus.

Favoring the revision were board members James Weiss, Ralph Martire, Anne Gottlieb and Liz Fischer. Roman Ebert, David Latham and school board President Patrick Meyer dissented.

Residents living within 500 feet of the school will be able to weigh in during a meeting, April 28 at 7 p.m.  at Roosevelt. The meeting must be conducted before the district’s application is filed with the village May 2. A formal public hearing is slated for May 22 at Roosevelt.

This iteration incorporates an off-site parking plan worked out by community leaders in March so the project would better meet village scrutiny on parking — the project’s most controversial element almost from the beginning. 

District 90’s plan calls for 46 spots, the requisite number for the PRI district — all of them will be on school property though further from the school building. The PRI, or the Public, Recreational and Industrial area, runs from Quick Avenue on the south, Chicago Avenue on the north, Jackson Avenue on the east and Lathrop Avenue on the west. This site also includes Centennial Park and the public library.

The play lot currently on Jackson will be replaced with a 28-space parking lot, which will be designated for staff only on school days. The driveways will be coned off before student drop-off starts at 8 a.m. until after a majority of students are picked up at 3:45 p.m. This will prevent use of the parking lot to drop off/pick up students also while allowing cars queued along Jackson, waiting to turn on to Oak to block driveways. 

A majority of the space currently occupied by the North Lot would be converted into a plaza and play area just outside the school office. This plaza/play area will link to an improved sidewalk along the north side of the school and to public sidewalks along Lathrop Avenue. The new play lot will help facilitate a comfortable pedestrian route around the north side of the school that will be unencumbered by vehicle traffic, according to a school district report. Plenty of landscaping, a swing, rubber play tiles, an area for 4-square, a seating wall and bike racks will be added.

A lot on Lathrop will be reconfigured for 19 spaces. Five will be short-term spaces of up to 30 minutes, and four will be for parking for up to two hours. The rest are intended for full-day use by school staff, according to a report from the district. After 3:45 p.m., the spaces may be available for school or library use.

Oak Street will continue to operate as a one-way westbound from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Student pickup and drop off will take place along the north side of the street. The circle drive will remain closed to cars. On-street parking will be allowed on the south side of the street during school days with restrictions along the north side of the street.

The redesign came after two and one-half years of discussion where one plan was tabled about one year ago to allow for more discussion and public input. A second redesign was approved by a 5-2 vote in December.  Latham and Ebert voted against that proposal as well.

That plan went on to the Development Review Board. But the district amended its application in March 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. 

Hearings are necessary because District 90 is seeking an amendment to a planned development permit granted in 1997 on renovations to the school’s gymnasium. 

Then shortly before school break in late March, village, school district, library and park district elected leaders met for more than two hours to draft a plan 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 presented to the school board earlier this month. And opposition swirled up to it Monday when residents complained that the vote should be postponed to allow for a traffic study. Others complained that the latest proposal seemed “rushed” through and didn’t offer enough public comment. Some thought the district should shelve the parking section and work on stormwater issues.

Latham said the plan was not kid-centric and expressed concerns that the Jackson lot would not satisfy safety concerns. Meyer, who was among the group of community leaders who worked out the latest proposal and who heartily endorsed the plan when it was heard earlier in April, thought they might have “jumped the gun” a bit because they needed to hear from residents in the 700 block of Jackson Avenue, who would be greatly affected by the change in parking.

Project proponents urged the board to resolve the issue. Suzanne Morrison commented that there weren’t a lot of options open to this because “the area was “the size of a postage stamp.” Others noted that there already had been enough delays and urged the board to stay the course. 

Martire disagreed with Latham’s take, noting they would take away parking from either entrance on Jackson and provide year-around space for youngsters to play and congregate.

Weiss noted that the area around Roosevelt was in need of attention for years. “I don’t think the switch of the North Lot and the Jackson play lot is ideal, but the 46 spots will meet the parking requirement. It will provide a unified campus. Let’s move ahead to the next step.”

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

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