A Letter to the Residents Regarding Graf Park
From Michael Benard, Executive Director
September 30, 2017
RE: Discussion: Proposed Land Swap of 4.5 acres between the Wheaton Park District and Community Unit School District #200 to facilitate the construction of a Preschool for children with disabilities
Thank you for calling, writing or visiting with myself or the Park Board regarding the ongoing discussion about the above referenced topic. I apologize if this communication appears delayed, but I was out the state this last Monday through Thursday attending a continuing education program.
Many residents have communicated with us on this topic and many more have participated in an online petition which I have been following as updates have been forwarded to me by the creator of the Save Graf Park website. I have also taken note of the many signs that have been posted in yards and city right of ways throughout our town. I assure you that your message has been heard. Certainly, the very reason we began a dialogue with residents over two weeks ago on the matter was to solicit such feedback so the best decision can be made on behalf of the entire community.
Some have expressed concern, disbelief, and some outright anger that the Park District would even consider this proposal that seemingly benefits the School District in a disproportionate fashion to the Park District. To explain, I submit that it is in the entire community’s best interest for all local governments to consider, discuss, research and plan as collaborators rather than independent “turf” oriented single focused entities. The School District has been wrestling with a significant problem for years. As a partner, the Park District has offered to help explore solutions that might not otherwise be possible without a collaborative approach. When the City, the School District, the County, Park District etc. collaborate, less money is spent on more robust solutions and the community is healthier. I firmly believe that residents in general appreciate a business-like approach to government operations and services. It is business-like to explore partnerships that may create multiple successes. It is also business-like to efficiently make a decision and move forward after research, evaluation and discussion with all stakeholders (including you) is conducted. Sometimes a better and different result is discovered only though the process of discussing other options. That is why the Park District undertook this dialogue.
The exploration of this concept has yielded the following facts and conclusions that I have shared with the Park Board and now share with you:
- The community of residents that live around Graf Park LOVE Graf Park and do not want it changed or any portion of it traded for equal property down the street regardless of the possible larger benefits to the community
- The concern over the possibility of needing to re-locate 2-4 Tree and Bench Memorials as part of the concept is respected and understood
- There is general support for the School District to build a new Jefferson Preschool somewhere with no property tax increase
- Graf Park is bounded by Manchester Road to the South, the train tracks to the north. The west property line is straight north to south from there (see attached site map). The School District owns all of the land west of that line including the land the synthetic turf football field and two softball fields occupies. The park district programs these areas in partnership with the School District.
- While the land swap is a proposed 4.5 acres, the concept building and parking lot will occupy only approximately 2.4 acres with the rest remaining green. In total, Graf Park is 9 acres in size.
- The Park District purchased Graf Park in 1972 from William and Bernice Graf for $145,500. Our legal review of the related purchase documents in our possession identifies no covenants or restrictions of record on the transaction with the Grafs.
- Many have stated that the Graf’s donated the entire park to the Park District. While I do not have a document that supports that claim, it may very well be that a negotiated lower purchase price was arrived at in exchange for the naming of the Park in their honor which is a frequent practice in the park purchasing business.
- Graf Park was purchased in 1972 using your local park district tax dollars in concert with partial reimbursement dollars derived from the Federal Land and Water Conservation Fund via grant administered by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. These grants typically come with some encumbrance on the uses of the land. I have yet to locate the original Grant Agreement which would depict the exact footprint of acreage in Graf Park that is encumbered by this grant. Once I locate the document, I will have a clearer picture of how the land swap concept may or may not be affected. I will report back when the facts are clear.
I know the School District is refining the Graf Park Concept based on the feedback from neighbors to make the footprint of the building and parking lot possibly less offensive and intrusive. I am also aware that the School District is refining the concept for constructing the preschool on the 4.5 acres of open space behind the existing outdated preschool facility just west of Graf Park. I expect that I will be prepared to make a formal and final recommendation to the Park Board within the next 7-14 days after I am able to review these concept revisions and locate the above mentioned grant agreement.
We appreciate your patience as this dialogue reaches its conclusion. There are no plans yet for these concepts to be placed on an agenda for Park Board discussion or action in October. If that changes, I will notify you. Please know that I have the deepest regard for your concerns about the best way forward for all stakeholders as well as the preservation of green open spaces.
Wheaton Park District