BLOOMINGDALE – A proposed $4.1 million expansion of a Bloomingdale school for children on the autism spectrum has encountered an obstacle on its path to breaking ground.
Marklund, a nonprofit organization that provides services for adults and children with profound disabilities, planned to build a 12,000-square-foot addition with 50 parking spaces to expand the facility’s Life Skills Academy.
The expansion would be funded primarily through a $3.5 million grant from the Ann Haskins Foundation and originally was envisioned to have the capacity to accommodate 50 additional students. The academy currently serves seven.
Because of outcry from neighbors of the facility, located at 164 S. Prairie Road, the village plan commission recently unanimously recommended the Bloomingdale Village Board reject Marklund’s plans.
“There was an awful lot of people at [the meeting] and they voiced their concerns and we just listened to what they had to say and we concurred,” said Plan Commission Chair J. Thomas Brice.
The biggest concern was traffic, he said.
The Marklund facility is located at the end of a cul-de-sac. Its only entry and exit points are at South Prairie and East Schick roads.
“We felt the traffic going down that street would be difficult to manage,” he said.
But Marklund CEO and President Gilbert Fonger said the organization was not given an opportunity to present strategies to mitigate traffic in the area.
Those efforts could include staggered stop and start times at the school, speed bumps, crossing guards, a designated school zone and decreasing the amount of students and staff at the facility, Fonger said.
The organization initially thought the academy could serve an additional 50 students, but considering the size of the proposed classrooms, the increase will likely add about 36 students, according to Fonger.
In total, Fonger said Marklund would be willing to reduce the number of additional students and staff at the school by about 40 percent.
Initially, the academy planned to increase the amount of vehicles, mostly buses, traveling to and from the school to 33 from the 13 that currently serve the facility. With the enrollment reduction taken into account, that number would fall to 26. Additionally, the total number of staff members would decrease from 65 to 49, which also would help mitigate the amount of traffic, he said.
According to Brice, some members of the plan commission may have felt differently about Marklund’s proposed expansion if the facility was located in an industrial area, not a residential one.
Neighbors of Marklund have echoed this sentiment.
But Fonger said Marklund has existed for 55 years at its South Prairie Road location, and at times has had up to 100 children as residents – four times the amount currently at the facility. Of those students, half would be bussed to public schools, he said.
“Back in the early 2000s and 1990s, we had a lot more traffic that went down South Prairie than we currently do,” Fonger said.
Traffic aside, Fonger maintains that the need for services targeted to children along the autism spectrum remains acute.
“We are the only nonpublic school in the area that serves this population,” he said.
With the Plan Commission’s recommendation in hand, the Village Board will have the final say as to whether or not Marklund can proceed with the proposed expansion, Brice said.
The board is scheduled to take up the issue during a meeting Feb. 10.
In the meantime, Fonger said the organization is in discussions with village officials as to how best to proceed with its plans.
Note to Readers: A version of this story containing an error previously ran in print and online. Marklund CEO and President Gilbert Fonger said Marklund is a nonpublic school. The article has been corrected to reflect this information.