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D-428 land center of discussions

DeKALB – DeKalb School District 428 will negotiate the future of Kiwanis Park with other local governments, but the land swap deal with ShoDeen Construction is still on.

School board President Tom Matya said he met with officials from the DeKalb Park District and DeKalb City Council about the fate of the open land by Huntley Middle School on South Fourth Street.

“The general consensus is the school district should not own the land, so let’s try to make it work for the park district,” Matya said.

In an interview after Tuesday’s school board meeting, Matya said he believes it is possible for all parties involved – the school district, ShoDeen, the city of DeKalb, the park district and DeKalb citizens – to mutually benefit. What that agreement would involve, Matya couldn’t say.

He said the negotiations were borne out of public pressure from a vocal group of DeKalb residents. Led by former DeKalb Mayor Bessie Chronopoulos, concerned citizens have spoken out at different meetings of government bodies, urging officials to do what they can to save Kiwanis Park.

Tuesday’s meeting was no different. Chronopoulos and several citizens reiterated their stances after Matya made the announcement about collaborating with other officials.

“To lose Kiwanis Park would cripple the DeKalb Park District’s ability to provide us green space,” DeKalb resident Christine Gardner said. “Kiwanis Park, until it’s owned by the DeKalb Park District, it will not be protected.”

The school board also voted unanimously to seek an appraisal of the land by the high school. Superintendent Jim Briscoe said it was a question that repeatedly surfaced in meetings with the city and the park district. The board will have to spend money to get the land appraised, but Matya said that a previous land appraisal cost only “$2,000 or $3,000.”

That dollar amount will come back for a vote to the school board at a later meeting.

An appraiser will be hired in the near future to evaluate the roughly 33-acre plot the school board wants from ShoDeen. In October, the district initially agreed to move forward with trading the 41 acres it owns by Huntley Middle School with the land ShoDeen owns by the high school.

District officials see the land near the high school as more valuable because it could be used for future expansion. Kiwanis Park is owned by the school district, but it is primarily used as community soccer fields, and the district has no plans for it.

The deal also would free the district from paying $42,000 a year to ShoDeen starting in 2013 – a debt the district incurred when it bought the land for the new high school.

ShoDeen President David Patzelt said previously that the district remains obligated to pay the $42,000 to ShoDeen if 2012 ends without a land swap agreement or another deal eliminating that payment.

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