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The Proviso Math and Science Academy exterior remodel will hopefully begin soon, though COVID-19 has threatened to put a crimp in the plans.

The project, part of District 209’s master facilities plan, will be a transformation of the school grounds on the corner of Roosevelt Road and First Avenue in Forest Park, not just to beautify the academy but to make important storm water management and traffic flow changes, in addition to adding ball fields for outdoor recreation.

At the end of April, Paul Starck-King, assistant superintendent of finance and operations at D209, said the district hopes to see the $2.4 million project completed before the potential start of school in August.

 “We are excited to get going on this work,” said Starck-King in an email. “The campus site will look a bit different when work is completed with well-designed student drop off and pick up, permeable parking lot pavers for storm water handling, improved lighting, and beautiful green spaces.”

 Steve Glinke, head of the zoning and building department in Forest Park, said that up until recently, things had been more or less moving on schedule with the project.

“All parties were cooperating and working together on a timeline,” said Glinke. “And then the circumstances changed due to COVID-19.”

The problem, he said, is with the public hearing legally required for this type of project. Normally, the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) would publish the date and time of the hearing and interested people could show up to voice concerns or ask questions.

Social distancing changed everything with the open meetings act, however.

“In a public hearing, the back and forth is important,” said Glinke. Zoom, which works well for village council meetings where there is no interaction with the public, wouldn’t allow for the type of discourse needed in a public hearing, especially if a large number of people want to weigh in on the matter. But holding the public hearing in-person wouldn’t honor state restrictions on the number of people who can be in one place at one time.

For a public hearing, all taxpayers within 250 feet of the project must be notified and public notice must be posted. And, since the Proviso district has so many feeder towns, there are a lot of stakeholders in the project.

“We have to plan for the nth degree,” said Glinke. “That means the potential for mass community input, pro or con.” And if someone isn’t given the chance to speak and weigh in on the project, it could open the village up to a lawsuit.

There’s no precedent for holding a public meeting in times like this. Legal counsel, said Glinke, has been instrumental in coming up with a way to allow public opinion while safely holding the hearing.

The solution? A ZBA meeting on June 11, but slightly different than it would normally look.

The meeting will be held both at village hall and via a Zoom webinar, combining in-person and distance attendance. Public comment can be submitted ahead of time, and during the meeting itself there will be an opportunity for the public to speak to the board, either remotely or in person.

The majority of the ZBA board members will attend in-person, as will Glinke, the village planner, the petitioner and the court reporter, all properly distanced. Members of the public who wish to speak in person rather than via the webinar will be staged inside village hall and brought in to the meeting one at a time, to ensure governmental restrictions about how many people can congregate at one place and at one time are followed.

Specific instructions on how to attend the meeting in person or remotely will be published ahead of time.

“The district is our partner, and we feel a need and commitment to get done what they need to get done,” Glinke said. “This is a huge value add for PMSA.”

He said he doesn’t expect pushback, but the village needs to be prepared for any eventuality. As such, it’s imperative to make sure the public hearing gives everyone a chance to speak up so there are no legal issues. “We’re catching up technologically and need to make sure all our bases are covered,” Glinke said.

As long as the petitioner submits everything on time, the June 11 ZBA meeting will be held as scheduled, albeit it in a slightly different format than during non-COVID times. The next step will be vote by the village council at the regularly scheduled June 22 meeting.

“It’s a big project, involving lots of money and lots of moving parts,” said Glinke. “But if all goes as planned, it will be shovel-ready by June 23.”