Planning for new Dist. 220 site across from Barrington High just starting
Five, 10 or 20 years down the road, a 32-acre tract of undeveloped land west of Barrington High School could be a parking lot, a new stadium, playing fields, a new school or something else entirely.
But for now, officials in Barrington Area Unit School District 220, which acquired the land over the past two years, say planning for its future is just getting under way, and could continue for years.
There was no plan in place when the district bought the southern, 20.75-acre portion of the site on New Year's Eve 2014 for $2.35 million. The northern, 11.25-acre portion was donated to the district on New Year's Eve 2013.
So, what will become of the land?
"That's a great question," Superintendent Brian Harris said recently, while standing in waist-high prairie grass on the land. "We're going to be spending a significant amount of time over the next couple years at the board (of education) level having discussions about district needs ... as well as also engaging the community off and on over the next several years to put together a master plan for this property."
The topic will come before the school board at their Oct. 6 meeting, when they will discuss the future of the district's facilities.
School board President Brian Battle said he doesn't know how that conversation will go, but noted that the board has looked at the newly acquired land as an opportunity to rethink the Barrington High campus.
"Back when we had a few hundred more students at the high school we were busting at the seams for space," Battle said. "In 10-20 years the district may have that many students again. If the district is doing its job long-term planning we want to make sure that we know what the high school would look like if we needed to expand."
The 32-acre tract includes about 14 acres of protected lands in the Flint Creek Conservation area. It sits in the middle of the property and features two branches of Flint Creek, protected wetlands and native plants.
Ironically, it is this land that the district cannot develop that it will get the most use out of in the short term.
Lisa Wolford, executive director of the Barrington Area Conservation Trust, said the organization will teach five Barrington High environmental science classes to study and sample the protected land using real-world techniques. And their work won't just be turned in to their teacher for a grade, it will be used to better understand the area.
"They will serve as citizen-scientists and help to provide data on how the stream is changing," Wolford said. "They will be doing real science and collecting real data."
Wolford said the 200 students and conservation trust volunteers will have their first stream monitoring day Sept. 22.
In addition to working with the classes, Wolford said the conservation trust will create an after-school conservation club that will feature guest speakers from the environmental science world and put students in touch with internship and scholarship opportunities.
"They are our next generation of conservation leaders," Wolford said. "We're really interested that the kids are developing that relation with nature now."
Harris said in the next year or two the district hopes to have students from every grade level taking educational field trips to the conservation land.
While students will be learning about the environment and the district and community discusses what to do with the site, the usable land will largely sit fallow, with a few exceptions.
Thomas Campagna, the business and finance director of District 220 buildings and grounds, said his crews will maintain the native prairie grasses that cover much of the land. Apart from the grass and trees, the only other thing on the land is a two-car garage, a shed and an old shipping container, none of which the district has any use for, he said.