WINNETKA – The Village of Winnetka is heading into 2017 with several issues that have been controversial among residents this past year.
School District 36 officials will seek an immediate solution to the overcrowding at Crow Island Elementary School and a long-term solution to address imbalanced enrollment trends that has left some schools operating under-capacity.
The school board met resistance from residents at a November 29 meeting about a proposal to shift elementary school district boundaries to address overcrowding at Crow Island in the short term. That idea was removed from the table when an advisory committee determined redistricting was not a viable solution for the over-crowding at Crow Island.
By January 2017, an advisory committee plans to recommend an immediate solution, which will be implemented by the fall of 2017. Under consideration is whether the district should offer any kindergarten or fourth grade classes at Crow Island, or possibly offer only some kindergarten classes, as a way to deal with the over-crowding. Another short-term solution would be installing two temporary classrooms, in addition to the two temporary classrooms already installed at Crow Island.
The school board plans to undertake the second phase of the enrollment balancing project in the spring of 2017. At that time the district will consider a long-term solution to address imbalanced enrollment trends throughout the village’s schools, which could include shifting district boundaries.
The Village Council has spent years grappling with how best to address flooding that occurs in western portions of Winnetka during large storms. After the village abandoned the controversial stormwater tunnel project due to runaway costs, it turned its attention to finding alternative solutions.
The consulting firm Strand Associates was hired in the fall of 2015 to find a creative solution to Winnetka’s stormwater problem. Strand proposed a stormwater plan that includes storage on public lands owned by other governing bodies such as the Cook County Forest Preserve, New Trier Township High School and the Winnetka Park District.
But Strand’s proposal has not been without controversy. Residents concerned about a proposed holding pond at Crow Island Woods formed a community group called “Save Crow Island Woods” aimed at protecting the park from becoming a stormwater storage area. Likewise, New Trier’s Board of Education balked at the idea of storing water above ground at Duke-Childs Field and relocating sports activities across Willow Road, on top of the landfill.
The entire project, however, hinges primarily on approval from the Forest Preserve to store stormwater on its land, according Steve Saunders, village engineer. Saunders spoke optimistically at a study session held on October 13 about village discussions with the Forest Preserve, indicating that an agreement may be ready for consideration by the council and Forest Preserve board by early 2017. Saunders also tread lightly on the idea of storing water at Crow Island Woods, as well as proposing underground storage at Duke-Childs Field as an alternative solution, albeit more costly.
While One Winnetka was likely one of the most controversial projects the village considered in 2016 — resulting in a year and half of public meetings frequently packed with residents sharing their views both for and against the large-scale project — that project is poised to move forward in 2017. A preliminary ordinance will be presented to the Village Council in January, making way for developer Stonestreet Partners to move forward on the project located on the site of the former Fell Department Store.
Supporters hope that the project will help revitalize the downtown business district that has experienced numerous empty storefronts over the last few years.