Anticipating population growth that would necessitate building a fifth junior high, Palatine Township Elementary District 15 bought close to 40 acres in Inverness back in 1999.
Enrollment trends have since reversed course, however, leaving officials to ponder whether they should consider an interested developer's inquiry into the Ela Road property in the wake of current economic uncertainty and the district's recent struggles to cut costs.
"Economically I'm not sure it would make sense for us to add another school," said board President Tim Millar, who was approached about the tract. "I can't foresee any use right now for the school district."
District 15 acquired the undeveloped acreage just north of the Bonny Glen subdivision from Palatine-Schaumburg Township High School District 211. It was part of a $3.2 million deal that also included small strips of land near Palatine High School and Virginia Lake Elementary School.
Millar and Craig Phillips, manager of environmental services, recalled the Inverness property's portion being closer to $2.5 million.
Board members had some concerns, namely the drastic drop in property values and the future possibility of needing a facility serving students in the western part of the district.
"We're very east-based in our facilities," member Rich Bokor said. "We're very west-short."
Superintendent Scott Thompson said he'd reach out to a real estate agent to get an idea of what the property is worth. He'll also look into the original contract, which may give District 211 first right of refusal to buy it back.
At the time of the sale, most real estate agents said District 15 got a bargain given other property in Inverness was fetching $125,000 per acre. In 1965, District 211 paid $125,000 for the entire property with the idea of building another high school, but officials later concluded it wasn't enough space for a modern facility.
Last year, Thompson got the board's OK to explore turning the space into an educational farm. The district started out slowly, planting pumpkin seeds in the spring. Students didn't have much to harvest in the fall.
"Only 72 pumpkins out of thousands of seeds made it due to the drought conditions," Thompson said.
Should the district hold onto the land, Thompson, who has an affinity for nutritious, sustainable and locally grown food, said he'd like to continue the farm initiative.