By Bob Skolnik
Riverside Elementary School District 96 has made an unsolicited offer of $340,000 to buy the nearly century-old Hollywood House, located just south of Hollywood School.
The Hollywood House, which was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright acolyte William Drummond and built in 1920 to serve as a school, is owned by the Hollywood Citizens Association (HCA), a private community group. It has long been used as place for meetings and special events.
District officials have coveted the land the Hollywood House sits on and the adjacent green space. They want to tear down the Hollywood House to provide more land for parking and a new playground.
Space is getting tight at Hollywood School, and an addition is being planned for it. The Hollywood School playground is on the land owned by the HCA.
Plans for a small addition at Hollywood School have prompted the school district to make the offer after protracted conversations with the HCA leaders. District officials say that they need the land to have enough space for the addition, parking and a better playground.
"We keep trying to sort of shoehorn in things," said District 96 Superintendent Martha Ryan-Toye. "It's been our long-term goal to separate play and parking and to improve outdoor play and learning spaces, and it just gets very complicated on that piece of property."
District officials and HCA board have been talking for a few years about how to work together to provide more playground space and more parking. HCA board President Gonzo Schexnayder said that District 96 officials have rejected ideas brought forth by the HCA to work together. He has said in the past that the HCA is not interested in selling the Hollywood House.
On the afternoon of June 24, shortly after receiving the offer, Schexnayder said the HCA board would meet sometime this week to decide how to respond.
"We had told District 96 that we weren't interested in selling the property and the house to them and made a number of offers, none of which they seem to have been interested in," Schexnayder said.
Schexnayder said the seven-person HCA board of directors will try to get input from the Hollywood neighborhood residents in Riverside and Brookfield before their meeting.
"We'll be very interested in hearing from the Hollywood neighbors on what they think," Schexnayder said.
A few hours after the offer was emailed to HCA board members, District 96 sent an email and press release to all District 96 parents, notifying them of the offer to buy Hollywood House.
Ryan-Toye said that the $340,000 offer was based on a recent appraisal that the district had done on the property.
Hollywood House is used by various groups such as Young Life, Scouts and the Hollywood School PTA. It is also rented out to private citizens for parties and family gatherings.
Ryan-Toye said if the HCA sells the house, the school district would allow the HCA to use the house at no cost for up to a year, since the addition at Hollywood School would not be built until the summer of 2020 at the earliest.
But the district would eventually tear down the house. After that, Ryan-Toye said, District 96 would allow the HCA and perhaps other community groups to use Hollywood School for meetings and events.
"The addition at Hollywood is intended to be a multi-purpose room which really can be sort of a large group community space that, I would think, many of their same activities might fit in there," Ryan-Toye said. "We think this could be a very good option for everybody involved."
District 96 has been on a real estate buying spree. In less than three years it has spent a little more than $1.2 million to buy three properties. It spent $689,100 to buy two houses on opposite sides of Ames School to make room for a large addition there, and last year shelled out an additional $600,000 to buy a building on Harlem Avenue to house the district's administrative offices.
If the offer for the Hollywood House is accepted, it would amount to spending more than $1.6 million for property in less than three years.
Ryan-Toye said she didn't believe the school district would need to buy any other real estate for quite some time if the Hollywood House deal goes through.
The school district is not making a take it or leave it offer and could be flexible on the price if the HCA wants to sell the Hollywood House.
"We're open to negotiations and we'll see where this goes," Ryan-Toye said.