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Olson: Pressure in DeKalb, giving in Genoa, flying to Miami

Published: Saturday, Dec. 22, 2012 5:30 a.m. CDT
Caption
(Photo provided)
The donation delivery crew with the items they brought to the Genoa-Kingston Ministerial Association Food Pantry this week. Transportation workers at Genoa-Kingston District 424 collected the donations as part of the first Pack the Bus Food Drive.

It’s remarkable how people at DeKalb’s school and park districts have changed their tune on the future of Kiwanis Park. Just goes to show what public pressure can do.

A month ago, DeKalb Park District Executive Director Cindy Capek told me that the only way the park district would be able to buy the property would be through a referendum. No money in the budget.

DeKalb School District 428 said negotiations to trade the 41-acre park at Fourth Street and Fairview Drive to ShoDeen Construction for 33 acres of land near DeKalb High School were proceeding full-steam ahead.

Now the park district’s board wants to find a way to buy the property from the school district – and apparently a tax increase isn’t necessary.

Meanwhile, school board President Tom Matya said there are “some issues” in negotiations with ShoDeen, and the focus now is on making a deal with the park district for the land.

The park district has almost $3 million in reserve funds, and there’s an active group of people led by former DeKalb Mayor Bessie Chronopoulos mounting a push to “save our green,” which is the site of 14 soccer fields used primarily by the local AYSO.

If the park district can make it work, then it would be great. Public green space should stay that way if possible, and the park district already maintains the property.

This deal wasn’t born out of the school district’s desire to see a park turned into a housing development, although the slowdown in development is hurting the district. This land swap plan arose because the school district needs money, it has land it’s not using and does not plan to use, and officials saw an opportunity to acquire property near the high school it could use in the future. (That land also looks like it could accommodate soccer fields, incidentally.)

The school district is poised to take a hefty loss on the Kiwanis property, which was appraised at $15,000 an acre, for a total of $625,000, earlier this year. The district purchased the property for more than $1.4 million in 2002, when it planned to build a new high school on it.

The land swap plan with ShoDeen also included other ways for the school district to raise money through reimbursements for public improvements.

Preserving an established community resource is a worthy cause. However, there should be some conditions met by any deal between the park and school districts. The school district should get full value for its property. They should not be short-changed.

The park district shouldn’t forsake other important projects, such as the plan to replace the Hopkins Park pool in order to make the deal happen. Buying this property hasn’t been part of any long-range park plan presented to the public. When two sides are willing, creative negotiation can make the difficult possible. The park district could pay the school district the sale price in installments over a few years, rather than all at once. The school district could use the money it receives from the sale to try to buy some or all of the 33.5 acres it wanted to acquire near the new high school for future expansion.

But it’s not fair to expect the school district to take on more financial burden in order to keep the land from being developed. Not everyone in the school district is included in the DeKalb Park District, and paying for local schools costs property owners thousands each year.

We’ll wait and see what they come up with next.

Pack the bus: On any given school day, the transportation department at Genoa-Kingston School District 424 has 15 buses and four vans taking local children where they need to go.

But last week, they decided they wanted to do something to show their gratitude to the community they serve.

On Dec. 15, from 8 a.m. to noon, district buses were parked at Genoa-Kingston High School, Genoa-Kingston Middle School, and in downtown Genoa for the transportation workers’ first Pack-the-Bus Food Drive.

“It was just a [way of] thanking the community for all the support they’ve given us over the years,” said Gerald Stoffregen, transportation director at District 424. “And we felt it was something worthwhile doing.”

So did people in the community. Stoffregen said he and his fellow bus drivers were surprised at the generosity of their neighbors, despite the near constant drizzle on that damp Saturday.

“It was shocking to see the magnitude of food and the people that turned out,” Stoffregen said.

The transportation department includes Valerie Lee, Candace Johnson, Carol Floit, Rhonda Kuhn, Diane Beisner, Florence Fradkin, Dana Turville, Carlotta Nellans, Michelle Reyes, James Struck and Kimberly Hawkins. There’s also Barbara Goff, Ken Hodgson, Amber Walitzer, Tracie Duffield, Sandra Buddinger, Barbara Devine, Daniel Duval, Carol Johnson, Robert Scherer, James Slater and Ernest Nelson.

Everyone helped in some way, Stoffregen said, whether it was advertising the event, taking turns in minding the buses during the food drive, or delivering the donations.

“We brought it all back to the bus lot and put all the food on one bus, and we had this one bus packed from front to back, down the aisle, under the seats, on top of the seats,” Stoffregen said. “It was just overwhelming.”

When it was time to deliver the donations to the Genoa-Kingston Ministerial Association Food Pantry at Faith United Methodist Church, Stoffregen realized that the job was going to require some help. Luckily, he found a ready supply at the middle school. Genoa middleschoolers Matthew McCluskey, Cody Bradshaw, Trey McCarty, Saul Osorio, C.J. McPherson, Justin McNeal, Andrew Miller, Dillon Connell and Ethan Bode came out to help deliver the food donations, Stoffregen said.

It took them about 30 minutes to unload the bus, said Carol Cleveland, a buyer for the food pantry.

The donations are certainly welcome, Cleveland said. The pantry will serve about 100 families this week, she said.

“They loaded that bus, I couldn’t believe it,” Cleveland said. “Every seat was filled full of boxes. … It makes you feel really good that we have so many generous people.”

Orange Bowling: The Northern Illinois University football team will be flying to south Florida on the day after Christmas to prepare for this unprecedented Orange Bowl appearance, and we will be right there with them, covering the events as they happen in South Florida.

Sports writer Steve Nitz will be following the Huskies up to and including the big game, and covering them the way only your hometown paper will. Follow our coverage in print, online at HuskieWire.com and on Twitter @HuskieWire. We’ll also be sending out text alerts when new stories hit the site. Sign up for them at online at shawurl.com/dma, and select the “NIU Sports” category. Of course, you can get all kinds of breaking news texts from the Daily Chronicle. Give it a shot.

Moving on in: Don’t ask me why I thought it would be a good idea to move my family the week before Christmas. It wasn’t the initial plan, but we found a buyer for our home in Cary, we found a place we liked in Sycamore, and it was giddy up from there. This week, the Olsons are in the process of moving to DeKalb County. It’s an exciting new start for us. People are nice, there’s a Portillo’s nearby and we already have some friends in the area.

We’re glad to be here.

I’m just hoping I can get the Christmas tree out of one of these boxes and set it up somewhere – quickly. I hope all of you have a safe and happy holiday.

• Eric Olson is the editor of the Daily Chronicle. Reach him at 815-756-4841, ext. 2257, email eolson@shawmedia.com, or follow him on Twitter @DC_Editor.

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