Wheaton Park District won't bid on Hubble

  • Wheaton Park District officials say they will not bid on the old Hubble Middle School site because the asking price is too high.

    Wheaton Park District officials say they will not bid on the old Hubble Middle School site because the asking price is too high. PAUL MICHNA | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 3/14/2011 5:52 PM

Wheaton Park District officials say they will not bid on the old Hubble Middle School site, even if it forces a reduction in programming, because the price is too high.

They also say Wheaton Warrenville Unit District 200's claim that 20 interested parties have picked up bid packets is inflated because school officials have not been entirely upfront about the minimum $10 million bid.

 

"If someone pays $10 million, I will take my hat off to them," Executive Director Mike Benard said. "We don't believe it's worth that much."

Benard said both an ad in Crain's Chicago Business and a For Sale sign near the northwest corner of Naperville and Roosevelt roads fail to mention the minimum bid.

But District 200 board President Andy Johnson said all interested parties receive the minimum bid and resolution in their packets. Additionally, he said, news coverage has publicized the $10 million number.

"As to the sign, anyone reading the papers lately, and most certainly developers, are well aware of the $10 million appraisal/minimum bid requirement," he said.

The 22-acre site was put up for auction last month. School officials have said they want to sell the property to a private developer and return it to the city and school district tax rolls.

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If that happens, the park district would be forced to either work out a deal with the developer for continued use of the site or cut some programs. About 13 acres of the property are in a flood plain and cannot support development.

In the resolution announcing the auction, school officials included a condition that any developer would have to make a "good-faith effort" to work with the park district.

While Benard said that was appreciated, it comes with no guarantee and does the park district little good.

If the site is sold to a private developer, Benard said park district basketball, volleyball, soccer and cheerleading programs would face the most significant cuts because of their reliance on space in the old middle school's gymnasiums.

On Saturday, parents lined the second-floor gymnasium to watch their 4- and 5-year-olds play soccer, while an older age group played in a first-floor gym on the north end of the building. Meanwhile, a traveling baseball team used a second-floor batting cage and Wheaton's traveling basketball team hosted a Geneva team in a league postseason tournament in the main gym.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"To us, this is our field house," said Frank Moscardini, a parent who has coached travel baseball and served on the baseball board for the park district the past eight years. "We don't have the benefit of other communities. We use every square inch. It's not wasted space as far as the park district is concerned."

Park officials continue to advocate for a plan that would allow light commercial retail on the southeast edge of the property.

School officials have said that in 2008, when they first floated the idea of selling the Hubble site, park officials assured them the district's other facilities could accommodate programming.

But Benard said that is not the case. Instead, he said, the park district provided a wish list of facility space it would need to replace the Hubble site.

That list was filed away and never addressed by the school district, Benard said.

In December, the park district was caught off guard by the school district's announcement it would sell the property.

Athletic Director Brad Keene said the park district regularly runs into schedule conflicts because of last-second scheduling changes by the school district.

Benard said he understands the facilities belong to the schools but when park officials receive last-second notifications, the burden is placed on them to notify parents, which damages the perception of the park district.

"It's their facility, their stuff comes first, we get it," he said. "But it puts us in a bind. It regularly puts us in position of not being in charge of our reputation."

As the April 14 deadline for sealed bids approaches, Benard said his goal is not to cause a rift between the two government bodies, which have had an intergovernmental agreement for Hubble use since 1973.

However, he said both bodies serve the same constituency and it will be a tough task to relocate the programming, which park officials say constitutes about 94,000 user hours a year.

"We want to maintain good relations but the taxpayers own the facilities," he said. "We want to use them to our fullest ability."

"These are their taxpayers, too," park board President Ray Morrill said. "We are all in this together. Or we should be."