The Lyons Township High School Board of Education has decided to sell the approximately 70-acre parcel of vacant, wooded land located in Willow Springs that it has owned for than 60 years — if it gets an offer of at least $55 million.
LTHS will accept sealed bids for the property over the next couple of weeks and open them on Jan 11 at 1 p.m. The land will be sold to the highest bidder, as long as the bid is at least $55 million. If there is no bid of at least $55 million, LTHS will not sell the land.
The school board decided to put the land up for sale after being approached by a potential buyer and concluding that the district will not need the land in the foreseeable future.
School board member Dawn Aubert called the potential sale of the land a tremendous opportunity.
“I’m really excited to embark on this endeavor and, you know, study and look forward to determining where those monies are best allocated,” Aubert said before the school board voted 6-0 to approve a resolution authorizing the sale.
Board member Jill Grech said that the sale of the land could have a “generational impact.”
The land is located just southwest of 79th Street and Willow Springs Road in Willow Springs. It is bordered by 79th Street on the north, Willow Springs Road on the east, German Church Road on the south and Howard Avenue on the east.
LTHS bought the land in two parcels, one in 1955 and the other in 1962, because there was concern that District 204 might someday need to build another school or campus to handle increased enrollment. But that has never happened.
Earlier this year, the school district hired a demographer to look at future enrollment scenarios over the next 15 years. The demographer, John Kasarda, predicted enrollment would likely remain stable.
Kasarda projected that the most likely scenario would be for LTHS’ enrollment to range between 3,736 students and 3,905 students over the next 15 years, roughly in line with or below this year’s enrollment of 3,882.
His most aggressive scenario indicated that LTHS’ enrollment could range from 3,936 and 4,315 students, while the most conservative forecast indicated that enrollment could range from 3,418 to 3,824 students.
“These figures are consistent with the same fluctuations that LT has experienced for the last 50 years,” said school board President Kari Dillon. “A new building would not be needed under any of those scenarios.”
School officials have not revealed the identity of the possible purchaser who approached the school. A buyer could develop the property in many ways, with commercial or residential development being the most likely. The property is located near the Tri-State Tollway and is just west of a large UPS facility.
“The board has included contingencies that allow the purchaser to investigate the suitability of the site for its planned development and that any potential zoning changes and final approval of the development plans would need to be through the village of Willow Springs,” said Dillon, reading from a prepared statement. “How the property is ultimately developed is up to the contract purchaser and the village of Willow Springs. The Board of Education will not be involved in that process, as it is solely within the jurisdiction of the village to approve any changes to the current zoning and any special use permits or variances to current zoning. It is also the village’s role to issue building permits for a future development.”
If the land is sold, the school would use the proceeds to modernize its two campuses and probably fully air condition the two buildings. Proceeds would also bolster already ample cash reserves of about $31.4 million.
“The potential this sale could have for our students is tremendous,” Dillon said. “Proceeds from this transaction could greatly enhance and improve the learning spaces at both our aging campuses. As outlined in our district strategic plan, LT has a goal to allocate the resources necessary to maximize success for all our students, and tonight we are taking steps toward achieving that goal.”
Not all district residents support selling the land. Anne Bennett, of LaGrange, the daughter of a former LTHS school board member, believes that District 204 should hold on to the land and lease it out to establish a permanent revenue stream for the school.
One person, who declined to give his name and who lives near the land, told the Landmark that he hoped the school would not sell the land.
He was concerned about what kind of development would take place and enjoyed having the large tract of wooded land nearby.