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D41 board tables motion to make offer on Wheaton College land

Published: Saturday, April 6, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, July 25, 2014 4:52 a.m. CDT

GLEN ELLYN – The Glen Ellyn School District 41 Board of Education unanimously voted to table the motion to make an offer on land belonging to Wheaton College during its meeting Monday.

The vote came after many community members spoke against the district's plan to acquire land from Wheaton College to build a new junior high school during a community forum held April 3.

In order to eliminate the use of mobile classrooms across all five district schools, the district was planning to make an offer to purchase a parcel of land at 1825 College Ave., commonly referred to as the Scripture Press property or Wheaton College's East Campus.

If the district could not reach an agreement with Wheaton College to purchase the land – which the college had said it would not sell – the Board of Education was expected to pursue a case of eminent domain. This would allow the district, as a governmental body, to purchase the property without the college's consent.

District officials said the College Avenue land is the only suitable property the district could find to build a new junior high within its boundaries.

The land is located in the central-west portion of the district on the north side of the street, just west of Kenilworth Avenue. Most of the parcel is in Wheaton, but it is within District 41's boundaries. Tenants of the building located on the land include the nonprofit organization World Relief DuPage.

During the forum, Glen Ellyn Village Trustee Pete Ladesic said he previously served on site selection and facility committees in the district that had identified alternative ways to address the schools' space issues.

Ladesic suggested applying the funds the district would use to purchase the parcel of land to instead expand existing school buildings or renovate them to address 21st century learning. He said "building up" from the schools would be less expensive than "building out" and would also factor in concerns about flooding on certain properties.

Wheaton College purchased the 15-acre East Campus property more than 15 years ago for its long-term educational and religious objectives, said Dale Kemp, vice president for finance at Wheaton College.

During the forum, Kemp pointed to unique legal protections the college has, including its 1861 charter from the state allowing it to purchase and hold land indefinitely.

At Monday's meeting, Kemp said it did not make sense for the board to vote to make an offer on land that isn't for sale and asked board members to reconsider the district's course.

Now that the motion to make an offer on the land has been tabled, board members will discuss what to do next, said Julie Worthen, director of communications and grants for the district. No next steps were laid out during the meeting.

For more than two years, the district has looked into acquiring land as part of its Long-Range Plan for its facilities as a way to eliminate the use of mobile classrooms.

There are 32 portable classrooms used to house about 500 students among the district's four elementary schools and one junior high.

The district has discussed some possible dates for holding additional forums regarding its facilities issues, inviting community members to partner with the district to find a solution.

"We do want to keep the lines of communication open," Worthen said. "We do want to find a solution that the community can support."

Mike Conoscenti, who has two children at Ben Franklin Elementary School, urged the district during last week's forum to still address the infrastructure problems at its schools, even if acquiring the Wheaton College land is not the best way to do it.

Although forum attendees spoke against the district's plan, Glen Ellyn resident Jim Matson said community members are open to working with the district to find a solution.

"We're all in this together," Matson said.

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