Dozens of Forest Park community members turned out at Grant-White Tuesday to create and propose plans for the now-shuttered school.
The workshop comes about three weeks after Mayor Rory Hoskins pitched a proposal to turn the school into a new center for youth and about two months after the park district proposed using it for its own youth programming. District 91’s board of education hosted the community workshop.
“We’re excited to kind of get the word out to the community regarding what could be of the space,” District 91 director of engagement Nurys Uceta-Ramos told the Review ahead of the event. “I wish I could say that we have a plan for it on our end, but the reality is we’re using it right now how we’ve been using it, and we’re trying to be proactive in figuring out what could be, and the first step in that is getting that community input aside from those targeted proposals that we’ve already received.”
Grant-White is not fully empty. The building hosted summer programs earlier this year and is used for some district offices and assemblies, according to Uceta-Ramos. It’s also used for board of education meetings.
“I would love for it to continue to be a space for children, and I think that’s where the board is at as well is — whatever the space does end up being used for — that at the end of the day, it can still support and impact students and families of the community,” Uceta-Ramos said.
Participants of the workshop appeared to agree.
As part of a collaborative process, school district officials solicited questions and ideas from attendees, who wrote the responses on poster board paper that lined on both ends of the gymnasium.
Questions ranged from inquiries about funding and costs for possible repurposing of Grant-White to how changes in enrollment would affect future plans. Others asked whether the district would consider selling the property to a developer or whether future functions and uses of the building would be limited to school-related activities.
“Is the District focusing on a revenue-generating opportunity, a community collaboration, or both?” one person asked.
Other suggestions included turning the building into a youth or community center, a media, arts or STEM complex, a space for educational or health and wellness programming, or a rentable space for various events.
Forest Park Board of Health member Leah Shapiro said she wants to see theater and mental health programming involved in Grant-White’s future usage.
“We’ve got this gorgeous space,” Shapiro said after the forum. “You don’t want to underutilize it. That’s what I’m seeing. I mean, this is ideal.”
During small-group discussions, one attendee said that she would like to see Grant-White be a multi-purpose building that in part offered programming and activities for teenagers.
Shapiro said the village needs a teen center and recreational activities for children. She said families in Forest Park need a safe place with programming for kids to go to after school.
“Anything positive that we can do to reach out to the community and provide good, quality activities is very important to me,” Shapiro said. “I think that’s one of the main reasons I came, because I want to see that happen.”
Another group brainstormed a vision to use the building as an arts center that offers programming to all ages and people with disabilities or suffering from mental health issues. Multiple tables suggested using Grant-White in ways that would serve and retain the village’s community.
Forest Park resident Jeremy Horn said the event was a “stepping stone” for parents and community members. He said he hopes the board of education can collaborate with the village and other entities, like the public library and District 209, to find a solution that accommodates Forest Park.
“This is a landmark, and so many children live here,” Horn said after the event. “It was kind of heartbreaking when they closed this, and it should be reopened.”
The District 91 board of education next meets Oct.12 at Grant-White. The issue is expected to be discussed then.