Has proposed kindergarten center in Vernon Hills hit a snag?

Plans by Hawthorn Elementary School District 73 to build a kindergarten center in Vernon Hills may have hit a snag.

Negative recommendations by Vernon Hills' planning and zoning committee could delay the center, which would be attached to the Vernon Hills Park District's Sullivan Center on Aspen Drive.

The parties involved plan to discuss the issues ahead of village board consideration Feb. 5.

"This was done in collaboration with all parties," said school board President Sonali Patil. "We just have to get on the same page again."

District 73 taxpayers in November approved a $48.7 million plan to build an 18-classroom kindergarten center and expand or renovate the district's six schools to relieve crowding.

The kindergarten center to accommodate as many as 500 students is planned on 31 acres of park district property across Aspen Drive from District 73's southern campus. District 73 would pay for construction but lease the building from the park district at a nominal fee.

Last week, the village's planning and zoning commission held a public hearing regarding the park and school districts' request for various approvals to build the kindergarten center, expand a parking lot and perform related work.

The hearing ended with negative recommendations on five separate requested approvals. Expanding the parking lot and related improvements, as well final site and landscaping plans, were rejected by 5-0 votes.

Commissioners had concerns with the circulation of traffic and how buses and cars dropping off and picking up students would stack up and then leave the area. Traffic would enter off Aspen Drive but leave by going through the parking area behind the Victory Centre of Vernon Hills senior living facility and onto Atrium Drive.

"I like the building, I like the architecture - it probably will be the nicest school we'll have in the area," said Plan Commissioner Jeff Mulcrone. "I just think this is a terrible site for it, and the (traffic) circulation is really bad."

Patil said the village wants to limit traffic on Aspen Drive from the new facility, which becomes congested at times because of the nearby schools, Sullivan and aquatic centers, and Aspen Drive library. Originally, the exit was to have been in front of Victory Centre, but it was shifted to the back.

Patil said she was surprised by the plan commission votes.

"We have done everything the village wanted," she said. "It hasn't been in isolation - all four parties (the village, school district, park district and library) have been involved from the get-go."

On Jan. 14, the school board agreed to borrow $13.5 million via a bond issue to finance capital projects approved via the referendum. Bids for the kindergarten building project are due Feb. 19, with an expected award in mid-March.

Patil said the referendum language on the request approved by voters locks District 73 into the site.

"I think there has been a communication gap. It's a snag, and we'll get over it," she said.

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