The school board for District 91 elementary schools is about to face a complex-but-interesting decision: What to do with Grant-White, the Randolph Street building the district closed as a school in 2022.
The district closed the building for school use due to steadily declining enrollment. While it is in use for meetings and some extracurricular and summer programs, a long-term resolution is necessary as it appears unlikely that enrollment will rise dramatically and there are costs associated with maintaining an older building.
There appears to be a consensus that using the building for services focused on youth would be a strong outcome. In a community meeting last week there were also voices urging an arts and mental-health component.
We see every possibility that those multiple uses could be blended if there is a spirit of collaboration.
The interesting twist here is that, while we reported last week that village government has made a proposal to the school district to use Grant-White for teen programs, the Park District of Forest Park, a month earlier, had made a more thoroughgoing proposal to the schools for the building that would include a range of indoor programs, ranging from daycare to teens to space for the West Suburban Special Recreation Association.
Each proposal has merit and each proposal works to solve a complex building need for the entity making an offer.
Village government would shift teen-related programs to Grant-White from the relatively decrepit Mohr Community Center. That building is eventually going to need a lot of work or a replacement. And village finances will make such upgrades challenging.
The park district sees Grant-White as a shortcut to its plans to construct a new facility to house a range of indoor programs. It has a plan, still short of funds, to build anew on Harrison Street, adjacent to its main park campus. Officials there say the recently acquired land on Harrison could remain a green space while new programs at Grant-White could be up and running quite quickly.
As happens under the leadership of Mayor Rory Hoskins, proposals from the village can come out of the blue and without a full consensus from other village officials or a plan for funding or operations. We think about the half-baked notion to move all municipal functions to military property on Roosevelt Road. How to acquire the land, how to pay for it, how to inspect it for environmental worries were all unaddressed when the story went public.
The park district however has been successful, thanks to generous local taxpayers and effective efforts to garner grant funding, in growing its footprint, adding programs and executing effectively. Plus the park district is in the business of providing recreational and social programs for a range of locals and it has $5 million banked to invest in Grant-White.
Good that the school district has options. Good that this critical public facility on the north side of town will have a public use going forward. We hope the school board moves steadily toward a decision.