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School Board needs to act on Helen Baker

The Glencoe-Silver Lake School Board is, unfortunately, back to square one on its Helen Baker Elementary School property.
The now-vacant school building and its surrounding grounds has been a hot topic in recent weeks, as the School Board considered a partnership effort with the city of Glencoe to develop housing on the site, heard a proposal to convert the property for community use and, Monday night, received an offer from a private citizen to buy the property for $2 and, if it could not be re-sold, to raze the building and restore the site to a grass parcel.
Monday night, the School Board voted on the proposal from citizen Ken Polifka. The vote to accept Mr. Polifka’s proposal ended in a 3-3 tie, which means the motion failed.
The positive thing about Mr. Polifka’s proposal is that it takes the school district off the hook for demolition costs for the Helen Baker building.
Under the city’s proposal, which was for the city to purchase the property for $1, and then create a tax increment financing (TIF) district to help develop the property for residential use, would have a required a $300,000 contribution from the school district to assist with demolition costs, a cost that would, theoretically, be paid back through the captured revenue from the TIF district.
There is an inherent risk, of course, in the city’s proposal — there always is in any investment. If the development doesn’t take off as expected, the district may not recoup its $300,000. On the other hand, there has been an estimate of up to $700,000 in demolition costs if the school district has to take the building down at its own costs.
While there is a risk that the proposed residential development may take time to flourish, or may not flourish at all, there also is the chance that it may very prove to be a very successful venture that will be of benefit to the community and school district alike.
What was particularly disappointing that while the School Board on Monday was willing to take a vote on Mr. Polifka’s proposal, it has yet to take a formal vote on the city’s proposal. A vote on the city’s proposal may well have ended in another 3-3 split, but at least the proposal would have been given the consideration it deserves.
Here is what the School District is left with:
• Take a vote on the city’s proposal knowing, if it passes, that it will require a $300,000 investment by the school district, which will hopefully be repaid;
• Reconsider Mr. Polifka’s offer, hopefully with more information at hand (just a reminder, the School Board devoted a whole workshop to the city proposal, while the Polifka offer was added as an addendum to the School Board agenda Monday night); or
• Go back to the drawing board, start over, and realize the school district may be spending a considerable amount of money, estimated at $700,000 to demo the Helen Baker building.
So far, the city’s offer seems to us to be the best. A developer is on board and it would provide the city with some residential growth, although it may take time see the full fruition of that growth.
Unfortunately, unless a School Board member changes his or her mind, the issue is at a stalemate.
It’s time to set up another workshop, invite the city and Mr. Polifka in, and weigh all the options.
And the sooner the better; opportunity is knocking at the door, and isn’t going to wait forever. An untaken opportunity is lost forever.