Mokena Park District: Kindergarten program a future possibility
BY GINGER BRASHINGER Correspondent January 4, 2013 11:46PM
Updated: February 7, 2013 6:14AM
The Mokena Park District is going to construct a building at Main Park to expand its preschool program — and possibly for a full-day kindergarten program — after plans to use space at Mokena School District schools fell through.
The two districts also have dropped a plan that called for the park district to use field space behind two schools for recreational programs in exchange for maintaining the fields.
The district went from full-day to half-day kindergarten to help eliminate a $2 million-plus budget deficit after a tax-hike referendum in 2011 failed.
Park district executive director Jim Romanek said he had discussions with the district about having the park district run a full-day kindergarten program at Mokena Elementary School — which “all sounded great,” he said, because the school district’s curriculum would be used — but Romanek said the park district intended to use in-kind services rather than money to “pay” for space.
“Usually, within intergovernmental bodies, we don’t pay money,” Romanek said. “It’s all taxpayers’ money. We don’t ask them (the school district) for money.”
Romanek said paying “in kind” was the only option the park district would consider and that leasing MES classrooms had been addressed in June with then-board president John Troy and Superintendent Steve Stein.
He said when discussion continued to include payment for leasing the space, the park district board turned its focus to building a 4,100-square-foot facility at Main Park to expand its preschool programs.
He said there are no specific plans for a full-day kindergarten but it is a future possibility.
“We’ve talked about it,” Romanek said. “There’s plenty of room for it.”
Romanek said the park district has the necessary funds for a new facility, although he was unable to provide the exact cost.
The cost of updating an existing building, which he called “a former press box,” to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act would be “pretty close” to the cost of a new building, Romanek said.
He said the park district hopes to have the facility finished by the end of July to coincide with the start of the next school year.
The school district, meanwhile, will continue to look for someone to lease the MES classroom space, which is available because of falling enrollment, but board member Mike Ford concedes it will be difficult.
“Our options are getting slimmer and slimmer,” he said.
As for the park district using field space owned by the school district, Ford said he wasn’t sure why the park district “backed out.”
Ford said Romanek told him in November that the park district “didn’t want to proceed” even though the school board, at the park district’s request, dropped a requirement that the park district make specific improvements to the fields.
“I’m disappointed that we couldn’t get a deal done,” Ford said.
Romanek said the park district learned that some private athletic organizations also were interested in the schools’ field space, and the park district didn’t want to be a “hindrance.” He also noted the potential for scheduling conflicts.