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D-428, park district exploring Kiwanis Park deal

Published: Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2012 5:30 a.m. CDT

Editor's note: Interviews with James Briscoe, Dave Patzelt, Cindy Capek and Bessie Chronopoulos were conducted before Tuesday night's announcement that the school district and park district had agreed to work together so that the ownership of Kiwanis Park shifted from the school district to the park district.

DeKALB – The land swap deal between DeKalb School District 428 and ShoDeen Construction is effectively "on hold" as the school district works with the park district in which the latter will buy Kiwanis Park.

Details on how the park district would buy Kiwanis Park – including how much it would cost – have yet to be worked out. School board President Tom Matya said Tuesday that the school board and park district's board of commissioners have agreed to this particular land swap "in principle."

"We feel very favorably that we can work cooperatively with the park district," Matya said. What we would do with ShoDeen, the developer – we still have some issues there."

Meanwhile, the school board hired the firm Martin, Goodrich and Waddell for $1,200 to appraise the 33 acres the district wants near the high school. The firm is estimating it will complete the appraisal by the third week of January.

Tuesday's announcement was the outcome of meetings between the school district and the park district, which have met twice with the city of DeKalb to discuss the fate of Kiwanis Park, where a number of youth soccer leagues play.

Cindy Capek, executive director of the DeKalb Park District, said everyone at the negotiating table has an interest in seeing Kiwanis Park kept green.

"The commitment is there to try to make it work, but we haven't formalized plans on how to make it work," Capek said.

But if the school district decides to sell or give the 41-acre property to park district, then it would not get the 33 acres it is hoping to get near the high school. District officials want the land because they feel it is critical to any future expansion at the new school. In October, the school board signaled that it was looking to trade the land with ShoDeen.

Under the proposed land swap, ShoDeen would pay the school district $654,511 as reimbursement for public improvements that were made when DHS was built. 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. The district remains obligated to pay ShoDeen if an agreement isn't reached.

Superintendent James Briscoe, Matya and ShoDeen President David Patzelt have said that there would have to be new negotiations if Kiwanis Park no longer was on the table.

"I would assume, if the school district were to sell land to some other entity, the school district may have money that they may want [to use] to buy something," Patzelt said. "In the event they don't have land to trade with me, and the school district wants to do something else not in the contracts, there has to be negotiations for that land."

At Tuesday night's meeting, Matya said they would have to negotiate with ShoDeen to free the district from paying the $42,000 a year or to acquire the land by the high school.

"Our focus right now is to focus on an agreement with the park district," Matya said.

Matya said the district has plenty of time to re-negotiate with ShoDeen, as the due date for the $42,000 payment is not until summer 2013.

Despite ongoing negotiations between the school district, park district and the city of DeKalb, Patzelt said nothing has changed in regards to the land swap agreement.

District 428 has a budget deficit of $2.3 million for the 2012-13 school year. The district does have a $28 million construction grant that it can use for anything, but school officials have previously said that the money would be used for educating the district's students.

Capek declined to speculate on how the park district would acquire the land, other than stating that the park district's Board of Commissioners would have to approve the decision.

"It's a matter of the allocation of resources and how you're able to do these things," Capek said. "This project needs to be reviewed with all other projects in the district."

As for the DeKalb City Council, City Manager Mark Biernacki noted that they are interested in seeing this issue resolved, but have limited power in this.

"We would not have the authority to interject ourselves into a business agreement with the two government entities," Biernacki said.

However, a number of aldermen expressed their reluctance in moving forward with ShoDeen's Irongate development project until the land swap issue is resolved. The Irongate project is a residential neighborhood planned for north of the high school.

At Monday's City Council meeting, a number of residents spoke out for and against the Irongate project. Despite Patzelt's insistence that they are unrelated plans, some of the aldermen and residents made a connection between the land swap and Irongate.

"Let's assume the land swap goes away," Patzelt said. "Does our plan at Irongate change? No."

Until the land swap issue is resolved, former DeKalb Mayor Bessie Chronopoulos and other concerned residents will keep speaking out at the governments' various public meetings.

"I think we've all discovered the importance of transparency and communication," Chronopoulos said.

With the different groups talking to each other, Chronopoulos said she is optimistic about the fate of Kiwanis Park, although she said her ultimate goal is to have the park district acquire the park.

"We know it will be in safe hands for years to come," Chronopoulos said.

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