"We still haven't been able to finalize an agreement with regard to housing any of their pre-K programs here yet, but I don't think it's anything that we've totally given up on," D159 Supt. Steve Stein said.
The idea of renting out classroom space at the school was proposed as an alternative to closing and leasing out Mokena Intermediate School last year. The park district was in talks with D159 to sign an addendum to the intergovernmental agreement between the two bodies—which currently allows for the sharing of facilities like gymnasiums and fields, but not classrooms—in order to secure space for its preschool programs. However, negotiations have come to a standstill because of different expectations on each side of the table.
According to Park District Executive Director Jim Romanek, D159 wanted to lease the classroom space for money.
"They were basing it on the square footages of the classrooms, and it came up like $7,700-something for the year," Romanek said.
While Stein declined to comment on the specifics of the negotiations, he did admit that D159 and the park district weren't exactly seeing eye-to-eye.
"I don't know that that's part of a conversation that I want to get into depth with right now, but there are certainly some issues that we still need to work out, yeah," Stein said.
The park district was expecting the deal to be an in-kind exchange of services like the existing intergovernmental agreement, according to Romanek.
"We've never swapped any monetary figures between the two taxing bodies," Romanek said. "It was always an agreement of swapping services for services."
According to Stein, the district does not currently have many other interested parties looking into leasing the space at Mokena Elementary.
"There's not people knocking on doors looking to rent school space, to be honest," he said. "Some of the available options for school districts out there are churches, or looking to see if anyone else is interested in renting space to start a preschool program, because you really want to keep it to be a school-based entity, so that there's some similarity of function there. People are always talking about looking outside the box, but you can only look outside that box so far when you're talking about utilizing school space."
Stein said the school district isn't feeling any financial pressure to get a deal worked out soon, and although the idea of closing MIS may come back up for discussion in the future, D159's financial situation is improving.
"I think anything is on the table in the future," Stein said regarding the possibility of closing the intermediate school. "I don't know that that's anything we need to look at immediately. That's at the prerogative of the board."
Romanek said the park district currently plans to keep its preschool programs in the Cady Building at Main Park.
"We're going to stay right where we're at," he said. "We're happy, our teachers are fine with where they're going to need to be for one more year, and we're still looking at other options for the future."
According to Stein, the setback in the leasing talks hasn't caused any bad blood between the two organizations, and he's hopeful that they can come to an agreement in the future.
"I wouldn't want anyone to think that there is any animosity between the school district and the park district," Stein said. "There is not, and we work with the park district all the time, in terms of many of the afterschool programs that they run, and I look forward to continuing to work with the park district. And if we can come to a determination for classroom space usage as well, I absolutely would welcome that. I think we’ll get there at some point in time."
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