An advisory panel is standing by its view that Marklund shouldn't be allowed to expand its school for children with autism in Bloomingdale.
For the second time in five months, the Bloomingdale plan commission is recommending the village reject Marklund's request to build a nearly 12,000-square-foot addition. The Tuesday night decision came despite Marklund revising its expansion plan so it would add fewer students and teachers than originally proposed.
"There's no doubt this is a very worthy project," Commissioner Leonard Jaster said before the 4 to 2 vote. "I feel it would address a great need, especially in this area.
"However," Jaster added, "one of the things we are commissioned to consider is any adverse impact to the immediate area."
Neighbors of Marklund's Bloomingdale campus say the proposed expansion would create a safety risk by increasing traffic on South Prairie Avenue, which dead-ends at the campus.
Commissioner David Smith, who joined Jaster and two other panel members in voting against Marklund's application, said he's concerned about the expansion causing an estimated 85 percent increase in traffic.
"That, to me, does represent an unknown," Smith said.
Gilbert Fonger, president and CEO of Marklund, said the nonprofit organization is "disappointed" by the outcome of the vote.
Unlike what happened after the plan commission made a negative recommendation in December, Marklund plans to take its proposal to the village board, which will get the final say on whether the project can proceed.
"We will be going before the village board with this very worthy project that's going to help a lot of kids with autism," Fonger said. "We're not done."
The proposed expansion would be to Marklund's Life Skills Academy, which provides specialized support to students diagnosed on the autism spectrum.
Fonger explained the addition would give Marklund the chance to add up to 35 new students to the program. It also would create 25 full-time jobs.
He pointed out those numbers were reduced from what was originally planned.
"We heard the concerns expressed by our neighbors," Fonger said, "and wanted to come back before the plan commission to show the significant changes that we've made that decreased the vehicular traffic by 40 percent and the size of the parking lot by 20 percent from our original plan."
Still, neighbors say there's already enough traffic on South Prairie, 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.
Resident Chris Colwell said he believes an expansion on Marklund's Bloomingdale campus would create "bottleneck issues" on South Prairie.
"I've got increasing air traffic over the house and now traffic potentially doubling almost in front of my house," Colwell said. "It's just a concern for me."
Resident Lynn Larsen said she's worried about the safety of the children who live on South Prairie if there are more buses, vans and cars.
"They play in the front yard," Larsen said. "They ride their bikes down the street.
"It would just be a tragic mistake if (town officials) allow this expansion on our dead-end street," she said. "It's an accident waiting to happen."
A consultant hired by Marklund said the extra traffic from the expansion wouldn't jeopardize safety. If the project is approved, the Bloomingdale Elementary District 13 superintendent said he's willing to work with South Prairie parents to find safe solutions for their children.
Superintendent John Bartelt said he supports Marklund's proposed expansion because it would allow for more area students with a severe or profound disability to enroll in the program.
So while he's "very concerned" about the safety of the kids who live on South Prairie, Bartelt said: "I'm also concerned about making sure that students that are at an extreme disadvantage are given an opportunity to get the education that ... we can't provide them."