Representatives of Fenwick High School rolled out its plan to build a five-story, 350-space parking garage on its campus, part of a larger master plan that would reorient the entrance of the school to face Madison Street.
Fenwick is asking for variances that would allow for a taller structure than is allowed under current zoning — the proposed garage would be 62 feet tall, while zoning allows for 45 feet — and smaller corner side yard setbacks, where zoning requires 15 feet, but the school is asking for 9 feet.
Garage access would take place off the southwest corner of the structure through an alley that would be vacated as part of the development.
Matthew McNicholas, member of the Fenwick Board of Directors and chairman of the school's Facilities Committee, said traffic engineers are working with village planners on a traffic study to determine the impact the open-air garage will have on roadways around Fenwick and on Madison Street.
He said most of the roughly 1,200 Fenwick students come from Chicago and have no need to drive to the school, but the third largest draw of students commute in from the Elmhurst region and do require parking.
"We're trying to consolidate those vehicular commuters onto the campus as much as we can," he said.
The garage is expected to take about 10 to 12 months to build, McNicholas said.
The school demolished two residential buildings at 423-425 and 427-429 S. Scoville Ave. last summer to make room for the parking garage. The school announced in May of 2018 that it received a $3 million donation from former Fenwick student Michael R. Quinlan, who graduated in 1962 and is a former chairman of the board and CEO of the McDonald's Corporation.
Village Planner Craig Failor said both the Oak Park Police Department and the Oak Park Fire Department have submitted letters saying they believe the garage will not have a negative impact with regard to emergency responders.
Failor also said he believes the proposal meets the intent of the Madison Street Master Plan and the Madison Street Comprehensive Plan.
William Woodward, a traffic engineer with KLOA, a Rosemont-based transportation consultant, said they are still working with the village to determine what impact the building will have with the Madison Street road diet, a plan approved last year that will reduce the number of lanes on Madison Street to two all the way from Austin Boulevard to Harlem Avenue.
He said the plan isn't creating new traffic but rather consolidating and reassigning existing traffic. Currently, students park at a surface parking lot on the campus and in the neighborhood that surrounds the school.
"With this garage, we are going to take all of those students who are parking on the streets and put them onto the site, which will free up those spaces and free up unnecessary circulation within the street system to find those vacant spots," Woodward said.
The surface parking lot located at the southwest corner of the campus currently accommodates 150 vehicles, but the school has proposed a larger master plan that would turn that surface lot into a landscaped quad area and the entrance to the school would face Madison, rather than East Avenue.
Once that surface parking lot is turned into a quad, it will put about 150 cars back out on the street, said Fenwick Chief Operating Officer Nancy Buffalino.
Dennis Marani, who serves on Fenwick's board of directors and on the school's Facilities Committee, said that once the parking structure is in place and the quad built, it will mean about 100 fewer cars on the street, noting that about 250 park around the campus currently.
Buffalino ensured that the expansion plan does not intend to attract more students to the school and that enrollment is expected to remain at roughly 1,200. "The things we're building are really not intended to increase classrooms and other things," she said. "It's really to improve the dining hall and add some better space for the students."
Asked by Commissioner Lawrence Brozek why Fenwick does not increase the size of the parking structure to include all vehicles, Buffalino said the school did not want the garage to stand taller than other structures on the campus. She said the cost of building higher also is a factor.
Marani said the garage not only would help better manage parking around Fenwick during regular school hours, but it also would relieve traffic and parking congestion during special events like basketball tournaments.
The Plan Commission will take up the issue again at its next meeting, scheduled for Feb. 7 at 7 p.m. at Oak Park Village Hall, 123 Madison St.
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