PLEASE COME! COMMUNITY FORUM ON LAND AND FACILITIES
Wednesday, April 3, 7-8:30 p.m.
Hadley Library Media Center
240 Hawthorne Blvd.
For more than two years, the district has been investigating acquiring land for a new school to be built in the future. Land acquisition is part of the district's Long-Range Plan (and Transformative Actions) for its facilities, which aims to bring all children under roof and to provide facilities for 21st century learning. Now, the district has identified a parcel that is large enough for a new junior high and is well located in the central-west portion of the district. The BOE expects to take action on a resolution to make an offer on the property at its regular meeting of April 8. If unable to reach an agreement with the property owner, Wheaton College, the Board of Education (BOE) may decide to pursue its legal right as a governmental body to purchase the property without the owner's consent through eminent domain. This process would take time, would incur legal fees and, if successful, result in the district buying the parcel at a fair value ascertained by the court.
The district is hosting a community forum on the topic to begin a new phase of engagement around its master facility process. Please come to learn more on April 3, 7-8:30 p.m. in the Hadley Library Media Center.
Parcel location and current use
The property is located at 1825 College Ave., on the north side of the street, just west of Kenilworth Ave. Often referred to as the Scripture Press property, the parcel is in Wheaton and within District 41 boundaries. Wheaton College has owned the parcel for many years and a number of organizations operate from the building on the site.
Why acquire the parcel?
After scouring the area for a parcel that would be suitable for a new school, this was the only appropriate site found. It's large enough for a junior high school and is well-located in the west-central portion of the district. A successful referendum would be needed in order to build a school, and the district is anticipating mounting a referendum no sooner than the 2015-2016 school year.
A school's worth of students has been housed in portable classrooms for years. In 2001, the district installed a portable unit at Forest Glen School; today, there are 32 portable classrooms housing about 500 students among the five schools. These portables were purchased or leased used and some are due for replacement. Over the years, numerous stakeholder groups have grappled with facilities issues, from the 2002 Blue Ribbon Committee, to the first facilities task force of 2004, to the Master Facilities Committee of 2009. Our enrollment has been stable for the last five years and projections do not suggest any downward trend.
Even with 32 temporary classrooms, the schools do not have enough space, or the right types of space, for a 21st century education. The elementary buildings cannot accommodate full-day kindergarten or provide sufficient laboratory space. By building a new junior high, the current junior high--Hadley--could be converted into an elementary school as well as house some other programs, resulting in "right-sizing" the elementary buildings (these schools would still need renovations).
Since 2002, the district has been engaged in facilities planning due to overcrowding. The 2007 facilities referendum for a new school failed decisively. After much analysis, two successive boards of education as well a boundary study and two representative task forces have come to the conclusion that the district needs a new school to bring all students under roof.
While the district has safety measures in place, security of students and staff in the portables has become of increasing concern in recent years: another reason to eliminate portable classrooms.
The district owns the vacant site of the former Spalding School (which was a school of 250-300 students); that parcel is small and poorly located for a school that would meet the needs of today.
How was the decision to purchase property made?
The decision was made slowly, analytically and publicly. The Board of Education spent more than two years analyzing needs and options. It first began talking publicly about buying property in January, 2010 and invited members of the 2009 Master Facilities Planning steering committee to weigh in on the idea. Since then, the district has been on record as wanting to find property adjacent to its schools to accommodate additions, and/or a large parcel for a new school. In March of 2010, the Board Finance Committee began reviewing the master facility recommendations and focusing specifically on the idea of land acquisition. In April of 2011, the BOE directed the district to launch a property search with the help of a real estate and land planning consultant. The College Avenue property was the only viable parcel to emerge from that process.
What is the business case for buying the property?
It is needed: A site is needed to build a new school to ensure that all students are housed.
There is no other suitable parcel: The vacant Spalding, the only parcel owned by the district, is too small and poorly located. The community rejected the 2007 request to add a school to the Hadley campus. The administration worked with a land planning consultant and did not find any other suitable parcels.
It's a good time to buy: It's been a buyer's market for the last five or six years, a condition that won't last forever. The district could pay for the parcel with reserve funds, and the BOE has designated a portion of district reserves for this purpose.
The district would gain an asset: The district believes that the community will support the plan to build a new junior high; if that doesn't happen, the property can be sold and the money recouped.
State construction grant: Illinois is slowly and belatedly fulfilling its construction grant commitments to school districts. District 41 is on the approved list and is eligible to receive a grant if it has approved plans in place.
Why eminent domain?
In June of 2012, the BOE directed Superintendent Dr. Ann Riebock to talk to the college about the College Avenue property; the college has not shown interest in negotiating with the district and takes issue with the district's contention that it has a right to acquire this particular property by eminent domain. The district's legal counsel says the district has a strong case and will likely prevail in court (although the district can abandon the process at any point). The BOE feels there is a clear need for the land and may pursue the property through all appropriate means.
On April 8, the BOE expects to take action on a resolution to authorize making an offer; if the college is not willing to negotiate a sale, this could be followed at a later date by a resolution for eminent domain.
The college may file a motion to dismiss, and if the court accepts it, then the process is over and the district would not get the property. If, as the district expects, the court dismisses any such motion, then the process of establishing land value begins. Eventually, a jury decides the price; if the district walks away at this point, it pays the college's legal costs.
Other documents you may wish to review include
-Land aqcuisition fact sheet; page 2 has an overview of the various properties considered over the years
-Historical look at the timeline of facilities decisions since the 1970s