Elgin Council to consider day school plans
By Mike Danahey email@example.com @DanaheyECN February 27, 2014 3:16PM
The Neil Building is one of 10 structures on the campus of the former Fox River Country Day School in Elgin. The school closed in 2011. A planned charter school and Elgin Academy both have proposals for using the property. | Sun-Times Media file
Updated: February 28, 2014 9:16AM
ELGIN — The city council is set Saturday afternoon to discuss two requests for proposal for use of what was the Fox River Country Day School, which the city now owns — one from a group hoping to form a charter school in Elgin, the other from the 175-year-old Elgin Academy.
City Manager Sean Stegall said that these were the only two RFPs received by the city, which was not surprising, given the nature of the property and restrictions on its deed.
“We need a tenant or tenants for our vacant property, and the council will consider the viability of these proposals,” Stegall said.
Stegall stressed that the decision involving the charter school would not mean the council would be approving the charter school.
“We are not part of that process,” Stegall said.
For its Elgin Math and Science Academy, the Elgin Charter School Initiative intends to lease the Neil Building — the newest on the campus, at 1600 Dundee Ave. — the dining hall, the administration building and the gym.
The initial lease would have contingencies; be for five years starting June 1, 2015; and would allow other groups to use parts of the campus. The school group would be responsible for lesser repairs, with the city picking up the tab for maintenance and repairs costing $2,500 or more. The city also would pay for utilities, grounds-keeping and snow removal.
The rent would be $50,000 for the first year and increase each year to $115,000 for the fifth year. If the school renews, the rent would be $130,000 for year six and $150,000 for years seven through 10.
Initiative group members Karen Schock and Kerry Kelly said they hope to have the necessary paperwork filed with School District U46 soon. The district then has up to 75 days to act on the application. If the district denies the application, then the group can appeal to the Illinois Charter School Commission. Schock is the wife of former Elgin Mayor Ed Schock and Kelly is married to Elgin City Councilman John Steffen.
While U46 Superintendent Jose Torres spoke to the council in the summer of 2012 and said that charter schools were not part of the district’s plans, Schock and Kelly said that was before the group had formulated what it would be doing. Group members recently met with Torres and other district representatives about that plan, the two said.
However, late Thursday afternoon in an email U46 Director of School & Community Relations Patrick Mogge stated, “A charter school for elementary school students is not part of our district’s plan.”
The advocates said that the plan would be to start the project with kindergarten through second grade, with 50 students in each grade, then gradually expand. If more than that apply from throughout the district, there will be a lottery for spots. The initiative intends to target students from at-risk neighborhoods to apply, Schock and Kelly said.
The day school campus stands in the boundaries of School District 300, so the charter school intends to provide private bus service with stops to be set in certain at-risk neighborhoods. Others accepted into the charter school can be dropped off at the campus or at bus stops.
As for Elgin Academy, according to material for the Saturday meeting, the initial lease would be for three to five years and likely begin with a language immersion program in the winter of 2014-15.
Buildings used would include dormitories, the gym, pool, dining hall and administration. The proposal would have Elgin Academy paying the city a portion of its profits.
Stegall said the Academy has been getting quite a few students from Pacific Rim countries, notably China, which would be the reason for the immersion program. Stegall said having such students in Elgin helps expose the city to other nations and could help economic development of the city.
“The more welcoming we are, the better it is for Elgin,” Stegall said.
Seth Hanford, head of school at Elgin Academy, said the private school is exploring different potential uses for the facility, although nothing as dramatic as the site becoming a satellite of the main campus. Those could include summer programming or educational opportunities not available at the 350 Park St. location.
“We’re anxious to be part of the process,” Hanford said.
What’s attractive to the Academy is the day school campus site location making it prime for offering environmental education and its dorms allowing for overnight opportunities. The Academy is looking at way to serve “a whole range of people,” Hanford said, not just those enrolled in it, by using the day school campus.
Hanford said that the Academy RFP is not tied to the charter school one but that they don’t conflict.
“We have every expectation that the day school site can serve multiple entities at once,” Hanford said.
In a complicated deal, last April, the city council approved an intergovernmental agreement involving the Illinois Tollway Authority that divvied up the land holding the Fox River Country Day School on Elgin’s far northeastern side between the city, the Kane County Forest Preserve District and Max McGraw Wildlife Foundation, which is adjacent to the school. The school closed in 2011.
The Tollway Authority covered about $2.6 million of the purchase, with the McGraw kicking in $600,000 for about 7 of the 50 or so acres — called the lowlands — that are closest to its property and which are next to a unique fen. That fen and a total of about half the site is set to become forest preserve land. The remainder of the land, called the uplands, is the city’s and includes the school buildings.
Stegall said the city would not be making money — at least initially — with the agreements. That’s due in part to roofs on all but the Neil Building needing repairs and water main breaks on campus this winter, Stegall said.