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Bloomingdale board OKs expansion project for disability facility

BLOOMINGDALE – After several months of debate, a project to expand a center for youth with disabilities is coming to Bloomingdale.

Nonprofit organization Marklund will build an about $4 million, 12,000-square-foot addition to its facility at 164 S. Prairie Ave. to expand a school for students on the autism spectrum, now that the Bloomingdale Village Board approved the project Monday.

It took nine months for the village to agree to the project, said Gilbert Fonger, president and CEO of the organization. The proposal went through the Bloomingdale Plan Commission five times.

“I’m gratified," Fonger said. "The final result is overwhelming."

The board’s approval was nearly unanimous, with trustee Judi Von Huben as the only dissenting vote.

The project will build a two-story addition to the Marklund facility, allowing the organization to serve another 35 students with autism at its Life Skills Academy. The academy currently includes only seven students.

Marklund also offers a day school for children with disabilities and medical needs. It serves 24 students.

Funded by a $3.5 million grant from the Ann Haskins Foundation and additional fundraising, the project will add 38 parking spaces and 25 full-time staff employees to the site as well.

Dawn Lassiter-Brueske, director of marketing, communications and public relations for Marklund, said facilities like Marklund's academy are needed because sometimes, school districts have trouble creating the correct curriculum and environment for children with more profound cases of autism.

“When the levels are more severe, it gets harder for them. You might need two staff per student,” Lassiter-Brueske said. “They may not be able to have something like that because of their budget.”

All teachers at the Marklund school are either autism specialists or working to become one, she said.

During the last nine months, Marklund has made changes to the proposed plan by decreasing the number of additional students from 49 to 35, decreasing the parking lot size by 20 percent and decreasing the number of additional buses from 20 to 13, Fonger said.

These buses will take students to the site from area school districts.

However, the expansion project came under heavy criticism by nearby residents, who said it will increase traffic on Prairie Avenue, causing a safety issue.

“Markland buses speed,” said resident Andrew Jordan, who lives four houses away from the Marklund site. “I’m concerned for the safety of the kids.”

Trustee Frank Bucaro said he thinks the board acted appropriately at the meeting by making concessions for public concerns on the issue.

The Village Board voted unanimously to set the speed limit near the Marklund site to 20 mph and to post traffic-related signs in the area. The board also approved of giving Marklund buses a portion of the right-of-way on Prairie Avenue, although there was one dissenting vote on that item from Von Huben.

“The residents of Prairie Avenue have a legitimate concern, but the value schools will provide for children who are in desperate need has to be taken into serious consideration,” Bucaro said.

Marklund hopes to begin construction on the project in October. However, Fonger said the organization has to wait for Nicor to remove a gas line located at the proposed construction site, so the start of the project could be pushed back until spring 2015.

“I feel the gas line is the biggest potential issue. You can’t put a foundation where there’s a gas line,” Fonger said. “It depends on how quickly Nicor will remove the gas line. If we start construction in spring, then we won’t finish until next December.”

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