(As published in the Daily Herald, June 24, 2014)
By Robert Sanchez
Marklund can proceed with a planned expansion of its Bloomingdale school for children with autism as long as it complies with certain conditions.
Bloomingdale’s village board Monday night voted 4-1 to grant Marklund’s request to construct a nearly 12,000-square-foot addition on its Bloomingdale campus at 164 S. Prairie Ave.
The $4 million expansion will create more space for Marklund’s Life Skills Academy, which provides specialized support to students diagnosed on the autism spectrum. Once the addition is built, Marklund will be able to add up to 35 students to the academy.
Gilbert Fonger, president and CEO of Marklund, said moments after Monday’s vote that he was relieved and excited about the board’s decision.
“I can’t even quite express how happy we are to have this wonderful result,” Fonger said.
In granting Marklund’s request, trustees rejected a recommendation by the village’s plan commission. The advisory panel concluded the expansion would “unduly burden” the residential homes along the stretch of South Prairie Avenue that buses and other vehicles use to reach Marklund’s campus.
But supporters say the addition will make it possible for Marklund to help 35 more children and their families.
Fonger said Marklund officials were expecting the village board to see beyond the plan commission’s decision. “And they did,” he said.
Still, not everyone was pleased with Monday night’s outcome.
After Marklund supporters applauded the vote, one neighbor walked toward the front of the room and told board members that they didn’t represent Bloomingdale residents.
“It’s a mockery,” he said to the board.
Earlier in the meeting, neighbors voiced their concern that the proposed expansion would create a safety risk by increasing traffic.
The neighbors argue there’s already a lot of traffic on South Prairie Avenue because of Marklund’s campus. In addition to the academy, the site houses the Marklund Children’s Home and the Marklund Day School, a facility for children with medical, developmental and physical disabilities.
Officials said 13 buses travel to the Marklund campus each day. Two or three of them are large buses. If the academy’s enrollment capacity is reached, it’s estimated that up to 13 more buses will be used to take students to the site.
“This is about whether Marklund should be expanding at the end of a dead-end residential (street),” neighbor Andrew Jordan said. “This is about 10,000-pound buses going down the street … while my daughter crosses the street in sandals.”
The plan commission said in its written recommendation that noise, fumes and traffic would adversely affect the neighborhood. Neighbors also expressed concern that there would be a series of enrollment increases at the academy.
To address those issues, the village board agreed to put conditions on Marklund’s project. For starters, Marklund can’t add more than the 35 new students to its program. Buses and vehicles serving Marklund won’t be able to park or idle on South Prairie. Also, Marklund needs to encourage employees and visitors to carpool to the campus.
Fonger said all the conditions are reasonable. He said Marklund is willing to work with village officials and neighbors to address any safety concerns.