Closed or closing schools will soon become parks under a new agreement between Rockford Public Schools and the Rockford Park District. The School Board and Park District Board of Commissioners approved an intergovernmental agreement tonight that will help develop a new elementary school in Cherry Valley and turn land at White Swan, Thompson and New Milford elementary schools over to the Park District for neighborhood recreational opportunities.
The strategic land management agreement outlines 18 acres of Park District-owned land at Harrison Avenue and Perryville Road, which is Southeast Community Park. Under terms of the agreement, RPS 205 will use that land to build a new school in Cherry Valley. RPS 205 will exchange it for land at White Swan (4.72 acres), Thompson (8.49 acres), and New Milford (3.65 acres) schools. White Swan and Thompson are scheduled to close after the 2017-18 school year. New Milford Elementary closed after the 2010-11 school year.
RPS 205 will first demolish those buildings, and then turn the green space over to the Park District. New Milford School will serve as open space for passive recreation. Thompson School likewise will have an interim period of serving primarily as open space; there is also a paved area along the east property line that will remain to provide connectivity to the Charles Street multi-use path. White Swan School will retain the existing playground along with fencing and select paved areas.
The Park District is committed to providing park space and recreational facilities that meet the recreational needs of this and succeeding generations. “It is our goal to provide exceptional parks and recreational facilities that reflect a high return on available resources. We believe neighborhood parks should be free of major barriers, and located less than one mile away from most residences within the District. This land swap helps us achieve that goal,” said Rockford Park District Executive Director Tim Dimke.
School Board and district leaders are committed to not letting shuttered schools become neighborhood eyesores. The board has allocated money for building demolition in its capital plan. “The Park District continues to be a valued partner not only to Rockford Public Schools, but to our community,” said Superintendent Ehren Jarrett. “Our continued partnership provides tremendous value for taxpayers of both entities, in addition to providing a quality site for the new elementary school in Cherry Valley.”
Rockford Public Schools and the Rockford Park District have been collaborating on four key areas since July 2013. These key focus areas include:
- Recreational and educational programming
- Holistic sports programs for all schools, all sports, and all kids
- Building and facility use
- Strategic land management/joint playground repair and replacement
- Joint purchasing/leveraging tax dollars
By “Teaming Up for Youth,” the two organizations have worked to reduce duplication, improve efficiencies and cost savings for taxpayers, and enhance sports and education programs for students.
In other business: The School Board tonight approved additional intergovernmental agreements relating to the new school in Cherry Valley:
- Winnebago County will provide 50 percent of the cost of an entrance, access and turn lanes on Perryville Road for the new school in Cherry Valley. The work is estimated at $240,000.
- The Village of Cherry Valley will pay $407,460 for the following improvements: A berm to separate the school and adjacent houses, the access road off Perryville Road, and half the cost of an interchange off Perryville Road. According to the agreement, RPS 205 will demolish the current Cherry Valley School within two years of the building’s closure. Within 60 days after demolition, the property will be conveyed to the village. Village trustees approved the agreement at a special board meeting Dec. 21, 2016.
On Jan. 24, the School Board approved an intergovernmental agreement with the City of Rockford regarding Walker Elementary, which closed after the 2015-16 school year. The City Council will issue requests for proposal to develop Walker School, and report to the RPS 205 building disposition subcommittee by July. The School Board would consider any feasible requests for proposal. Before the School Board votes, disposition subcommittee members plan to bring any feasible requests back to the community to collect feedback. The School Board has the final say on what would happen to that property.