DOWNERS GROVE – In an effort to promote safety, the Downers Grove Village Council will consider an intergovernmental agreement between the village and Community High School District 99 designed to improve several pedestrian crosswalks near Downers Grove North and South high schools.
The initiative comes on the heels of a tragic accident that killed 17-year-old Beth Dunlap, a junior at Downers Grove North.
Joseph Kucharski of Naperville was charged with nine counts of aggravated DUI and two counts of reckless homicide after he allegedly struck and killed Dunlap in front of Downers Grove North High School.
Authorities said Kucharski was under the influence of drugs and alcohol the morning of Feb. 19 when he drove through the intersection of Main and Grant streets, striking and fatally injuring Dunlap.
Kucharski faces three to 14 years in prison if convicted of the charges, to which he has pleaded not guilty.
The incident left community members and District 99 families devastated and in mourning, but “out of that came a lot of ideas from students, staff [and] residents of ways we could improve safety around the schools,” District 99 Superintendent Hank Thiele said.
At the July 2 Village Council meeting, Public Works Director Nan Newlon led the discussion on the project, which kicks off with a traffic study that will analyze the major intersections at both of the high schools’ campuses. The village and District 99 already have selected Sam Schwartz Engineering, a transportation consulting firm with six offices across the country including Chicago.
“The most effective way to move forward is to engage [with] a consultant who’s an expert in pedestrian and vehicular community engagement,” Newlon said of the village and district’s collective decision to choose Sam Schwartz. “These are not skills necessarily present in every consulting engineering practice. It’s something we actively sought out in the Chicago area.”
Newlon narrowed down the study’s focus areas. At Downers Grove North, all eyes will be on Main Street from Ogden Avenue to Lincoln Street. Along that corridor, Newlon said, there are only two intersections that have traffic signals: Main Street and Ogden Avenue and Main and Grant streets.
Meanwhile at Downers Grove South, 63rd Street – which intersects with Dunham Road, Springside Avenue and Main Street – will be analyzed.
If the proposed intergovernmental agreement is approved by the council and the District 99 Board of Education, both entities will share the cost of the project. So far, the village has proposed a contract not to exceed $81,070 with Sam Schwartz. That fee will be divided evenly between the two, amounting to $40,535 each. Some of the traffic studies have begun and reports could be up for review by the fall of 2019, officials said.
In addition, the village and District 99 plan to host public meetings, open houses, online surveys and student-focused activities to gather more data and input from Downers Grove residents.
“That will really be the heart of the project – the community engagement,” Newlon said.
Echoing Newton’s sentiments, Thiele spoke to the importance of a partnership between the village and the school district. In order to continue building a safer environment for students and faculty, Thiele and his colleagues looked to join forces with the village to have a better understanding of how to move forward with a construction project like this one.
“We’re just trying to take a scientific approach to this and make sure that we’re investing the time and money and resources into something that would make a difference,” Thiele said.
The council was expected to vote on the intergovernmental agreement at the July 9 meeting, while the Board of Education plans to take action on the matter at a meeting slated for July 15.
“That’s our tradition here in District 99,” Thiele said. “We’re open and collaborative with the community in solving challenges.”