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Group rebuffs D96 offer to buy Hollywood House

Both sides say they remain open to negotiating

July 9th, 2019 12:53 PM

Hollywood House

The president of the Hollywood Citizens Association (HCA) has reaffirmed the organization's commitment to maintaining Hollywood House, saying they are opposed to selling the entire property to Riverside School District 96, which wants the land to accommodate expanding Hollywood School and separate parking and play areas.

HCA President Gonzo Schexnayder told the Landmark in a phone interview last week that school district officials have a "lack of imagination on what their options are," adding that negotiating with the school district always boils down to selling them the land so they can demolish the 99-year-old Hollywood House.

"Unless they come back with something that hasn't been thought of, this is where it stands," Schexnayder said.

Schexnayder's comments come following a week of back-and-forth about the future of the roughly 23,400-square-foot parcel of land on the northeast corner of Washington and Hollywood avenues in Brookfield.

On June 24, District 96 made an unsolicited, public offer of $340,000 for the property, which sits directly south of landlocked Hollywood School. The property directly north of the school is owned by Riverside-Brookfield High School.

In a July 3 op-ed published in the Landmark, Schexnayder said the HCA remained open to negotiating with the school district about its use of the association's property. The two entities have a longstanding relationship where the school uses a portion of the HCA property for a playground, and the HCA provides vehicle access to the school via a driveway on the east property line.

Hollywood School, District 96 school board member David Barsotti pointed out, provides parking for HCA events, even ones during school hours.

"Groups that use or need access to the HCA during the day park in the school parking lot while kids play," Barsotti said in an email. 

District 96 Superintendent Martha Ryan-Toye also expressed interest in keeping lines of communication open and working toward a solution everyone can agree to.

"I look forward to future conversations," Ryan-Toye said. "Are there other ideas out there? I'm hopeful there are."

The school district in its offer letter requested that the HCA respond by July 8, but Schexnayder said the association wasn't preparing a formal response.

"The op-ed is kind of clear," he said. "In March, we told them that we were not interested in selling and nothing has changed."

Schexnayder said the association is willing to formalize expanding use of the property and has offered to sell land east of the house for a school district parking lot and has offered to expand the playground to the west.

But school officials have resisted the parking lot solution, saying it's not feasible due to a combination of underground utilities as well as storm water detention and greenspace requirements.

"That was something we talked about, but what we thought was easy, we learned was not so straightforward," said Ryan-Toye.

An op-ed authored by District 96 school board member David Barsotti, also published in the July 3 Landmark, claimed that by selling Hollywood House, the HCA would advance its original mission to "promote the physical, moral, and social welfare of the Hollywood community."

Schexnayder called Barsotti's view "off-mark," saying that the HCA's mission is not to be the "moral compass of the neighborhood."

"What it has been is to maintain the history of the Hollywood House and its mission as a community resource," Schexnayder said.

The HCA president went so far as to say that without the Hollywood House, the HCA likely would cease to exist as an organization.

"The HCA will go away with it. We're not going to manage a rec room at the elementary school," said Schexnayder, referring to the school district's offer of letting the HCA use space at Hollywood School for its functions.

"We're there for the house, for its history and its current mission to support the children of the Hollywood neighborhood and Hollywood Elementary," Schexnayder said. 

Schexnayder also said he believed the public offer to buy the house was a pressure tactic by the school district.

"I took it as pressuring the HCA to sell," Schexnayder said. "I think they think there's a huge component of the neighborhood that doesn't like the Hollywood House."

But Schexnayder said he's heard very little in the way of support from people in Hollywood for selling the historic community center.

"The only people who have contacted us who support the school board were either on the school board or friends of the school board," Schexnayder said. "Everybody else is very supportive of maintaining Hollywood House and its purpose."

Ryan-Toye said the conversation sparked by the school district's offer to the HCA has helped school district officials better understand what Hollywood House means to residents of the neighborhood.

"The feedback we've gotten is helpful in terms of the value of the HCA and the House to the community," Ryan-Toye said.

This story has been changed to include information regarding the HCA's use of the Hollywood School parking lot.