A group of kids try out the new equipment on Thursday, July 28, 2022, in the West Suburban Special Recreation Association's new sensory room in Melrose Park, Ill. | ALEX ROGALS/Staff Photographer

The Park District of Forest Park and the West Suburban Special Recreation Association officially signed a memorandum of understanding agreement over the shared use of a new indoor facility – whether it will be a brand-new building on the south side of Harrison Street or a repurposed Grant-White Intermediate Elementary School building. 

Even before the park district announced its plans to build a new indoor facility to expand its indoor programs and classes, it had been talking with WSSRA about sharing space. The association’s office is now in Franklin Park, and it has been interested in moving to a more central location within its service area. This summer, the two entities got a $2.5 million grant to help fund the construction of the new facility, and one of the grant conditions was signing the MOU.  

Park district executive director Jackie Iovinelli said that the two sides agreed on the general principles and it was just a matter of the attorneys from both sides hashing out the exact legal language.  

Since the grant was released, the park district reached out to Forest Park School District 91 about the possibility of leasing out a portion of Grant-White, which was closed at the end of the 2021-2202 school year. The discussions are ongoing, and District 91 Board of Education hasn’t made any decision as of this publication. 

WSSRA provides recreational programming for children, teens and adults with disabilities throughout western suburbs. The Park District of Forest Park is one of its member districts. As a matter of policy, WSSRA doesn’t own any real estate and leases space from its member districts and departments instead. 

Under the MOU, WSSRA and the park district will work together “to plan, develop, construct and operate a multi-use facility on the Park Property for the shared use of both Parties.” Nothing in the document gives a specific location of the building, and Iovinelli confirmed that the agreement would be in force whether they go with Grant-White or proceed with the earlier plans to build a building.  

The agreement is good for one year, with the option to renew it on an annual basis. Either side can dissolve the contract after giving a 90-day notice.  

While Grant-White has been closed as a school, District 91 still uses it for board meetings, certain office functions, and after-school and summer programs.  

Iovinelli has said that the park district was interested in the building because it would allow them to expand programming faster than it would take to get the $5.5 million it still needs to construct a new building. The park district had estimated that they would need about 20,000 sq. ft., or about half of the Grant-White building. Iovinelli said that they were looking to lease the former school rather than buy it outright, since it would be the faster and less expensive option.  

Since the park district expressed its interest in the building, Mayor Rory Hoskins presented a proposal to use it as a replacement for Howard Mohr Community Center, which requires extensive rehabilitation.  

The D91 board hasn’t committed to either proposal, but several board members said they were leery of any deal that would preclude the building from being used as a school again should the enrollment numbers rebound. Projections so far show they won’t in the next two years.