The Forest Park School District 91 Board of Education may vote as soon as next month on whether to accept the Park District of Forest Park’s proposal to use the former Grant-White Elementary School building as a new indoor facility.
During the Oct. 12 meeting, the school board discussed the park district proposal presented in August, the proposal presented by Mayor Rory Hoskins in September and the takeaways from the Grant-White Harvest community listening session in early October. The general consensus was that while the board might consider leasing out the building, it was leery of any proposals that change the building enough to preclude it from being used as a school in the future. It agreed to have a special meeting to discuss a possible “rubric” by which they’ll consider the current and future proposals and vote on whether to accept the park district proposal in either November or December.
District 91 closed Grant-White at the end of the 2021-2022 school year due to declining enrolment. The building is currently used for board meetings, adult education, after school and summer programs, and the school parking lot houses the district school buses.
The park district is looking to lease Grant-White for at least 30 years as an alternative to building a brand-new facility on Harrison Street, across the street from its main park. The indoor facility is meant to provide more programming space and new, more centrally located office and programming space for West Suburban Special Recreation Association, a collaborative that provides activities for people with physical and mental disabilities. The park district currently has $5 million out of the $10.5 million it would need to build a new structure from scratch. Park district executive director Jackie Iovinelli told the board of education that reusing an existing structure would save money and allow them to expand the programs much quicker.
At the time, Iovinelli asked D91 to allow their architect to inspect the Grant-White building to figure out how much the reuse would actually cost and whether it’s something they should proceed with. According to Supt. Elizabeth Alvarez, the inspection has since happened. And while D91 got the copy of the park district’s plans for a brand-new building, as of Oct. 12, they did not know how those plans would translate into Grant-White renovations.
In September, Hoskins presented his own proposal, saying that the village would use it to house children and youth programming that currently operates out of the village-owned Mohr Community Center. The community center building faces multiple maintenance issues, and work on replacing its playground has been paused as the village inspects the reservoir located underneath. Expanding programming for teens has been a priority for Hoskins, and the mayor told the school board that they would work with entities such as the Forest Park Theatre and local Scout troops.
The feedback from the Harvest suggested broad community interest in some kind of educational or recreational use. 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.
During the October meeting, Alvarez said that she wouldn’t want to see any drastic changes to the structure.
“In my heart, I want it to reopen as a school,” she said. “I also understand that our numbers are not growing, even though we did grow slightly this year, and part of me feels like – what happens if we give up Grant-White and we do [see enrollment] increase?”
Board member Steve Rummel agreed.
“If we had to move some walls or some electricals to accommodate some programs, that’s fine, but I wouldn’t want to see this building transformed away from its core function as a school so, if the day comes, we were able to open it back up as a school,” he said. “[I’d want us to be able] to bring it back with minimum disruption and also accommodate the community.”
Board member Kyra Tyler said that she would want the building to remain something that’s “incredibly welcoming to children” and would preserve the existing gym/auditorium. But she also said that if she had to choose between the two proposals, she was leaning toward the one from Hoskins
“That feels like a greatest need to me, and they don’t have additional space, whereas the park has the Roos [Recreation Center], you know, they have the [administration] building,” Tyler said.
Board President Shannon Wood said that given that the park district presented its proposal three months ago, it was only fair to vote on it – something she wanted to do at the regularly scheduled Nov. 9 meeting.
“To be clear, when I’m asking for the vote on the park district, it is only yes or no vote for the park district,” she said. “If it’s a ‘no’ for the park district, it doesn’t mean an automatic yes for the village. We still have things to figure out.”
Wood said she generally wouldn’t support significant changes to the building, either.
“What I’m saying is, what I took away from the Harvest, with all the classrooms, with all the space, I would like to keep this budling intact, as is,” she said.
Board member Monique Cotton-Yancy said she would like the board to vote on the village proposal in November as well.
Board member John Lyons argued that the November vote would be too soon because the board hasn’t discussed what it would like to see happen to the building, including what it would take to realize some of the ideas suggested during the Harvest.
“We’ve been talking, but I feel like we’re rushing to get to somewhere,” he said. “I don’t feel like we as a board sat down and really had an idea of what we wanted to do and how that fits in with any proposals that matches up to that.”