WILLOW SPRINGS, Ill. — Sixty million dollars would have a big impact on a suburban school district, but plans to sell land and raise that money have triggered angry emotions among some who live in the district.
“Honestly, it would destroy the community,” said Willow Springs resident Erica Gerros.
The mother of five is frustrated by months of back-and-forth over Lyons Township District 204’s on-again off-again plans to sell a 70-acre patch of land. The wooded property is adjacent to a UPS facility on one side but homes, a park and elementary school on its other borders.
Willow Springs officials say they were blindsided several months ago when the school district revealed a $55 million offer for the land from a developer who wanted to build an industrial park on the site. Another developer offered $60 million a few months later.
Frustration mounted when the Illinois Attorney General ordered the release of audio recordings from closed door school board meetings in which board members could be heard discussing the community’s concerns.
“We’re never going to win them over,” one board member is heard saying.
“When that fence goes up they’re not going to be happy,” another said to laughter.
“I think the losers right now, quite honestly, are the community,” said Willow Springs village president Melissa Neddermeyer.
The property sits in her southwest suburb.
“All of this is coming from a high school board that serves them and they pay taxes too,” she said.
Lyons Township District 204 superintendent Brian Waterman and current members of the school board all declined repeated requests to speak with WGN Investigates, according to a district spokesperson.
“The Board remains committed to leveraging the District-owned Willow Springs property as an important asset,” Board president Dawn Aubert said in a statement released by the school district.
Facing a threat from Willow Springs to not accommodate zoning changes that would be required for an industrial park the school board said in March it is no longer seeking bids “at the minimum price and under the previous terms.”
The district is not ruling out selling the property for industrial use in the future.
Willow Springs is countering by saying it will not entertain zoning changes until spring at the earliest.
Meanwhile, the large property remains vacant.
“The land has so much potential,” resident Erica Gerros said. “It could be used on both ends: Lyons Township and our community could gain from this.”