Vernon Hills trustees support Dist. 73 kindergarten center over plan commission's objections

Hawthorn Elementary District 73 has reached a milestone years in the making with preliminary approvals to build a kindergarten center off Aspen Drive.

The Vernon Hills village board on Tuesday shrugged off negative recommendations of its advisory planning and zoning commission in giving unanimous support to the $13.5 million facility.

Voters in November approved a $48.7 million borrowing plan for a new building to consolidate kindergarten students and for renovations at the district's six schools because of crowded conditions.

"This building is the foundation for the whole referendum," said Michael Schenk, spokesman for Families and Friends of Hawthorn District 73, which worked to get the measure passed.

The district, which has momentum with the go-ahead to issue bonds and the recent selection of a new superintendent and curriculum director, urged trustees to consider the big picture, as a delay would affect subsequent work on other schools.

"Shovels need to get in the ground on this project in the spring to open in fall 2020," Schenk said.

In 7-0 votes, the village board gave informal approvals for a two-story, 18-classroom kindergarten building to be attached to the Vernon Hills Park District's Sullivan Community Center. Approvals are expected to be made official at the next village board meeting, Feb. 19.

The advisory group was concerned with the flow of buses and cars, a parking lot expansion and other aspects of the proposal, and it rendered negative recommendations on five separate requested approvals.

The planning and zoning commission operates in a perfect world, Trustee Jim Schultz noted, and proposals sometimes need to be "massaged" and reworked. The interests of the school and park districts, parents, the nearby Victory Centre senior living facility, as well as the village's desire to limit traffic on Aspen, were all considered, he added.

"We've created the best that can be created in an imperfect world," he said.

The kindergarten building will join the Sullivan Center, the park district's aquatic center and the Aspen Drive library, which will be expanding, on the east side of Aspen Drive. District 73's southern campus of schools is across the street.

Kindergarten traffic will enter from Aspen and exit to the east on a village easement through the Victory Centre's rear parking lot to Atrium Drive.

David Brown, the village engineer/public works director, said the various parties have been collaboratively planning and coordinating since about 2014.

"I think it's a good plan. I don't have concerns," Brown said. "We will work through traffic issues into the future, should they arise, but it's not due to this development."

Trustee Michael Marquardt said he respected the planning and zoning commission but wholeheartedly supports a campus of facilities, including the park district, school system, library and seniors.

"This is ideal," he said.

Bids for the kindergarten building project are due this month, with an expected award in mid-March. The building will accommodate up to 500 students but 340 to 425 are projected over the next 10 years.

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