Elmhurst Unit District 205 Board members would love the option of building on some of the Berteau Avenue site Elmhurst Memorial Hospital is selling to a home builder. But it's way too soon to know what would be built there, School Board President Jim Collins said Tuesday.
The city is land-locked, some schools are approaching 90 and 100 years old, and the additional 50 homes likely to be built on the Berteau site will probably drop a lot more students into the district.
"The hospital property is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to try to obtain at least an option of some land if we were ever to need to build more buildings," Collins said.
The notion of reserving around 5 acres of the 15-acre site to eventually build a school came up last week. It was part of an intergovernmental plan Elmhurst Park Board designed to alleviate flooding in that part of town, respect the needs of the developer, provide for a new park in the short term and allow District 205 some room to grow in the long term.
The Park Board specifically discussed District 205's option to rebuild Field School on the site; elementary students from the new houses on Berteau would be within the Field School boundaries and likely cause overcrowding.
But Collins made it clear Tuesday that the type of school that might be built—and when—are not being discussed yet, let alone decided. Pending successful negotiations with the city, Field is just one of countless possibilities. Any plans for the site are many years down the road, and they will require a thorough evaluation of the physical condition, enrollment and other needs of all schools in the district, he said.
"It was reported very recently that we are interested in reconstructing Field School," he said. "That is certainly one option, but not necessarily an option we're committed to, and there is no time frame."
He said while Field is still "quite a functional school," Lincoln School, for example, is nearly 100 years old and badly in need of repair and, possibly, rebuilding.
"Many (schools) are at or near their capacity," he said. "Some have surrounding land to build on, some do not," he said.
The School District is in the process of hiring a consultant to provide a longer-term look into future enrollment needs for all schools in the district, based on birth rates and other sophisticated data.
"Berteau is an opportunity that has come up now," Collins said. "We're working with the park and city to allow us an option—perhaps a decade or more from now—to potentially, if we are successful in negotiations, swap some land (with the Park District). It's something we owe our community to pursue."
Board member Chris Blum said these discussions are not optional in light of the new homes that will be built there.
"(That) has a material impact on our district and requires us to look forward," Blum said. "It's something we absolutely must do, if for nothing more than to manage the impact of what is going to be built there."
The School District is a victim of its success. Every year, 50 to 100 new students come into District 205, Collins said.
"With the advent of the Internet and real estate websites that partner with school evaluation firms, school districts no longer have to rely on their reputations," he said. "Home purchasers can look at hard data. We are fortunate to have a very good school district. People move to our community for our schools. As a board, we have to think decades down the line."
The School Board discussed the Park District's plan in closed session Tuesday. It is not known whether they are close to signing off on it as written. Park Executive Director Jim Rogers said last week he hopes school and park representatives can begin discussions with the city soon.