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BOE TABLES LAND ACQUISITION DISCUSSION
At its April 8 meeting, the Board of Education (BOE) tabled action on an offer to Wheaton College to purchase property at 1825 College Ave. The BOE has been considering the 15-acre parcel as a site for a new junior high school to be built in the future. Building a new school would allow the district to convert the existing junior high into an elementary school, right-size its four existing elementary schools and eliminate the 32 portables that are installed across the district. The motion to table further discussion of acquiring the land was made in light of the complexity of the issues and the need for a better understanding of community priorities, specifically whether the community wishes to eliminate portables.
On March 13, the district had made public its interest in the property and the possibility it would consider using eminent domain to acquire it if the district and the college could not come to an agreement. That announcement was followed by an April 3 community forum where the district presented information on its space challenges, provided the rationale for pursuing the property, and listened to community input.
At both the April 3 community forum and the April 8 BOE meeting, Wheaton College stated that it is not interested in selling and that it would oppose any efforts by the district to acquire the property. A number of community members cited objections to the concept of eminent domain, concern about the legal fees, conviction that the district could not pass a referendum to put a school on the site, worry about damage to the district's relationships, and a desire for the district to find another alternative or to make do with its current facilities. Other residents talked about the pressing need for the district to solve overcrowding and their belief that portable classrooms are unacceptable. A number of community members also referenced their ties to Wheaton College, District 41, or both, and acknowledged the high quality of education the district provides.
BOE members noted that the district has been wrestling with overcrowding for more than a decade and that there is no indication that enrollment will decline. Over the years, the BOE has analyzed numerous options in detail and found them to be insufficient, too disruptive or too expensive. BOE members encouraged community members to become informed about district facilities, and involved in finding a solution. Wheaton College Vice President for Finance Dale Kemp said that while the college has not changed its mind about selling the parcel, he thanked the BOE for its professionalism and for the opportunity to better understand the facility challenges that the district faces.