Marklund has hit a roadblock in its plans for a $4 million expansion of its school for children with autism.
The Bloomingdale plan commission is recommending the village reject Marklund's request to build the 12,000-square-foot addition. The advisory panel made its decision last week after neighbors of Marklund's Bloomingdale campus complained the proposed expansion would create a safety risk by increasing traffic.
"The concerns of the Marklund neighbors seemed valid," J. Thomas Brice, the plan commission chairman, said Thursday. "It seems like there would be a large increase of traffic."
Brice said the existing school is in a residential neighborhood that's "not really meant for that type of a traffic pattern."
While village board members will get the final say on whether the project can proceed, Marklund officials say they were "caught off guard" by the plan commission's negative recommendation.
"We answered all their questions," said Gilbert Fonger, president and CEO of Marklund. "But they (plan commissioners) ended up keying in on safety. They said the additional traffic could cause someone to get hurt."
Marklund's Life Skills Academy, which provides specialized support to students diagnosed on the autism spectrum, has been operating since January 2010. If the expansion happens, Marklund plans to partner with Wheaton College to open the academy's enrollment to more students from Cook, Kane, DuPage, Lake and Will counties.
But neighbors say there's already a lot of traffic on South Prairie Avenue, which buses and other vehicles use to reach Marklund's campus. In addition to the academy, the site houses the Marklund Children's Home and the Marklund Day School, which is a facility for children with medical, developmental and physical disabilities.
"They (neighbors) had concerns about their children playing in their own neighborhood because of the volume of traffic," said Brice, adding that Marklund's facilities operate all year. "It doesn't stop in the summer when their children are out playing."
Fonger said 13 buses travel to the Marklund campus each day. Two or three of them are large buses. If the expansion happens and the academy's enrollment reaches capacity, up to 20 more buses would take students to the site.
Meanwhile, 84 percent of the traffic generated by the school happens at the start and end of the school day, according to a traffic study conducted by a consultant hired by Marklund.
"There's only a couple of peak times during the day," Fonger said.
The traffic consultant concluded the school expansion could generate 78 vehicle trips in the morning and 40 to 52 trips in the afternoon.
While the proposed expansion would add traffic, Fonger said Marklund is willing to work with village officials and neighbors to address safety concerns.
"We could do staggered start and stop times," he said. "We could end up decreasing the speed limit on that road. We could put in temporary speed bumps. There's all sorts of things we can do if safety really is the issue."
Brice said he doesn't know if it's possible to find a solution that would satisfy the neighbors.
"There doesn't seem to be another way to reroute any of the traffic," he said. "And even if we did reroute it, the traffic would just go through some other residential neighborhood."
Even though the proposal is expected to be reviewed by the village board on Jan. 13, Marklund is planning to request a delay until February.
"We really want to fully vet this with the village," Fonger said, "to see how we can answer the safety issues."