D90 board delays parking revamp, other work at Roosevelt
District 90 President James Weiss speaks Thursday at the District 90 board meeting at Roosevelt Middle School in River Forest. He said he wanted to postpone a decision on a plan to alter parking at Roosevelt Middle School. | Ray Whitehouse~for Sun-Times M
Updated: May 13, 2013 2:12AM
RIVER FOREST — A planned $1.6 million landscaping and safety upgrade at Roosevelt Middle School has been shelved, at least through 2013.
The plans, which were to be presented at the D90 committee of the whole meeting Thursday, call for new lighting and extensive landscaping improvements as well as changes to parking in the school’s lots and on adjacent streets to better protect students from heavy traffic.
While no formal vote could be taken Thursday night, the D90 school board made it clear it had no intention of ignoring an outpouring of concern over a perceived lack of communication regarding the project, as well as concerns over the project’s costs and details.
Opposition to the proposed plan developed in the wake of recent news accounts of the village rejecting a request to make Oak Street permanently one-way westbound in order to allow for added staff parking there. Many people said it was the first they’d heard of the plan.
With some 40 residents in the Roosevelt auditorium, one by one board members said that, while they didn’t necessarily agree with conclusions some people had drawn from media accounts, they were not inclined to move ahead with such an expensive project if so many people still had questions.
School board members also stressed that student safety issues remained paramount and must be addressed soon, whether or not the overall project goes forward.
D90 board president James Weiss helped cut the tension in the room when he opened board comments.
“I know the summer school fees are an issue you’re here to talk about,” he quipped.
Board vice president Patrick Meyer said the reaction to the project had “grown exponentially in the last couple weeks.”
“I’m suggesting we take a time out and that we do not move forward with the Roosevelt project (this year),” he said. The school board, Meyer said, needed to “re-engage with our neighbors” as well as the library and park district.
School board members spoke at times emotionally of both their love for the school and the students it serves, and also of their respect for their neighbors concerns.
D90 board secretary David Latham said he appreciated the hours of conversations he’s had with his neighbors on the issue.
“The perception of those I’ve heard from is that we fell short,” Latham said. “That perception is now the reality.”
Liz Fischer said she respected the concerns expressed, but also hoped the hard work of many, including D90 Superintendent Edward Condon and Finance and Operations Director Anthony Cozzi would not be wasted.
“I hope a lot of what we worked on will find its way to a best solution for the school,” she said.
PTO president Anna Schaider said she agreed with all the board members comments, saying, “I do think we need more dialogue.”
But she also urged the board to make changes, decrying the present state of the school regarding exterior safety and appearance.
“We’re envisioning our needs for the next 20 years,” she said, calling for “safety, functionality and aesthetics.”
“It is an amazing plan,” Susan Morrison said. “There is so much bang for the buck.”
“If we start piece-mealing this plan, we’re going to lose the savings.”
Library trustee Thomas Smedinghoff thanked the school board “for your willingness to postpone the project and engage in further dialogue.”
Trustee Harley Beck applauded the school board for listening,” and said, “If this is the best plan, it will still be the best plan next year.”
Most everyone acknowledged the still-existing need to improve the design of the school parking lots and on-street parking to enhance student safety.
The north parking lot off Lathrop Avenue is a particular concern to the school administration and parents. It gets a lot of traffic and also abuts two school entrances heavily used by students.
Gerri Humbert, the Roosevelt Middle School PTO liaison to the school board, urged the board to not put off parking lot safety improvements. She related a frightening experience she had involving her young son there recently.
When Humbert let her son out of her car to walk to the multi-purpose room entrance on the north side of the Roosevelt School building, she said, she watched in terror as he passed behind a parked car by the entrance door that suddenly prepared to back up. He made it safely past the car, but Humbert was traumatized.
“When I saw the (car’s) reverse lights go on, I nearly died,” she told the school board. “Please, he has to be safe.”
“I don’t care about trees, I don’t care about wishing wells, I don’t care about mosaics,” she said, referring to proposed design elements. “I care about the safety of my child.”