(Editor’s note: This story has been updated.)
Oak Park and River Forest High School District 200 is not the only organization eying Priory Campus, a roughly seven-acre site in River Forest owned by Dominican University.
Officials from Fenwick High School submitted a letter of intent to Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL), a real estate company in Chicago that partnered with the university as its commercial broker, said Rev. Richard Peddicord, president of Fenwick, in an email to Wednesday Journal. The deadline to send in letters of intent was July 30.
Peddicord declined to comment on the school’s proposal to buy Priory Campus but shared what the property could be used for if the university selected Fenwick. The site, located at 7200 Division St., could transform into another athletic court or field. Fenwick has long leased the athletic fields that surround the Priory Campus from the Dominican Friars religious order.
For 19 years, Dominican University has owned the property known as Priory Campus. The university bought it from the Dominican Friars religious order in 2002. The campus is home to three buildings, totaling 102,941 square feet, said university spokesperson Jessica Mackinnon.
If Fenwick were to acquire the property, it may use the additional space for administrative or athletic offices, spiritual retreats, alumni gatherings and reunions or Fenwick arts and music programs, Peddicord wrote in an email. He went on to say that a newly formed feasibility committee would be in charge of “envisioning how the Priory space can best be” used to meet students’ needs.
Aside from Fenwick, River Forest Village President Cathy Adduci speculated that the River Forest Park District and West Cook YMCA may be other organizations interested, according to the Oak Leaves. The site is currently zoned for non-taxable public and recreational uses, which means it is not available for housing and commercial developments.
Michael Sletten, executive director of the River Forest Park District, confirmed the district “may have an interest in this property” but it did not submit a letter of intent before the July 30 deadline.
“The board has yet to have any discussion on this issue,” Sletten said in an email to the Journal. “Dominican was soliciting bids on the property until the end of July, and we were seeing if any offers were made and accepted.”
Representatives from West Cook YMCA could not be immediately reached for comment.
JLL Managing Director Thomas Kirschbraun and Dominican’s Mackinnon declined to comment on the number or names of other entities which submitted letters of intent.
“Due to confidentiality obligations, I cannot disclose the active bidders or status of negotiations,” Kirschbraun wrote in an email to Wednesday Journal.
OPRF’s plans for Priory Campus ‘remains to be seen’
Last week, the OPRF school board announced it was seeking to buy Priory Campus.
Elected officials voted unanimously to approve a letter of intent to purchase the property after a two-hour closed session at a July 27 special meeting. The letter of intent allows the district to start negotiations with representatives from JLL.
The university had one week, or until Aug. 3, to decide whether to accept the district’s letter as it is written or with any changes to the terms, according to a press release issued by the district days following the meeting.
Because the high school campus is landlocked, district officials see a potential in the Priory site and to finally address long-term facility needs. Priory Campus is about two miles away, or a six-minute drive, from the high school, 201 N. Scoville in Oak Park.
“I’m excited,” Superintendent Greg Johnson said. “I think that it is exactly what a school district like ours should be looking into.”
Johnson added submitting a letter of intent is the first step to opening the negotiations process with the university, so “nothing is certain.” “This is nothing that is guaranteed for the community or for students by any stretch, but we do need to do our due diligence,” he said.
If Dominican accepts the letter, the board plans to vote on a finalized letter of intent at a special meeting on Aug. 12. The board’s approval “would mark the beginning of good-faith negotiations toward a legally binding purchase agreement,” the release stated. Under the district’s current terms, the university would have to take the Priory site off the market for at least 30 days after the final letter has been approved.
The district is seeking to buy Priory Campus at $6 million – or $7 million, if the seller demolishes all existing buildings on the site before closing, according to the letter of intent. The letter also stated the district has three business days to make a $25,000 escrow deposit, once it has signed an agreement to acquire the site.
Under a due-diligence clause, the district has six months, or 180 days, to assess the site and conduct any studies to learn more about its condition. The district wants to maintain its right to terminate the agreement and receive its deposit back, if it is “not satisfied” by the studies or is unable to secure the financing or necessary permits “for its intended use,” the clause also stated.
During that six-month period, board member Fred Arkin and board President Sara Dixon Spivy said they would like to bring families, students and residents in on the discussion to help decide the best use of the site. At this point, the district has yet to decide what the site will be used for.
“[We have] nothing really concrete at this point,” Johnson said. “We know that we have a host of needs that were defined by our IMAGINE [OPRF] process. Exactly how that might translate into this property, it’s just too early to say anything. That’s exactly what we intend to explore over the next several weeks and months.”
Echoing Johnson, Arkin said the potential use of the site “remains to be seen.” Priory Campus could be transformed into an athletic field or host the school’s special education programs, he said of the range of possibilities.
In a previous interview with Wednesday Journal, former university President Donna Carroll said the Priory property looks like an “egg on a pedestal.” The campus is surrounded by athletic fields, which have been long leased by Fenwick High School from the Dominican Friars.
The site has been up for sale over the last couple months, as Dominican University’s use of the facility has withered over the past years.
Arkin and Johnson said if the district acquired the property, plans for OPRF’s second phase of renovations at the main campus could be changed. The bulk of those second phase projects involve revamping a majority of the school’s athletic facilities, they said.
The district has also not decided on how it will pay for the property or its possible
“That’s part of what we have to consider moving forward, exactly how the financial implications will play out for our school district,” Johnson said. “What we know right now is that our board, our administration are interested in having conversations about what this plan could do for us.
“We think that it is something that could really benefit our students, and there are a lot of details that need to get worked out. What exactly we would use the land for, what exactly the financial implications would be for our district moving forward – those are all things that have to be explored.”