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Woodlands expansion of Barat campus gets initial nod

Anne O'Connell left woodlands Academy Lake Forest resident Margie Hart listen as master plan for school's expansiwas presented Wednesday July

Anne O'Connell, left, of woodlands Academy and Lake Forest resident Margie Hart listen as the master plan for the school's expansion was presented Wednesday, July 17. | Linda Blaser ~ Sun-Times Media

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Updated: October 7, 2013 4:56PM

A plan to redevelop the former Barat College campus took a major step forward after Lake Forest officials unanimously approved a master plan to expand Woodlands Academy at the site.

The Plan Commission on Wednesday, July 17, voted 6-0 to recommend a plan that would create an athletic campus on the former Barat property, which is now owned by the neighboring Woodlands Academy.

Commissioner John Anderson was absent.

The Woodlands expansion plan includes new regulation-sized softball and field hockey/soccer fields on the west side of the property, reworked parking, the expansion of a conservation easement along Sheridan Road, installation of two new crosswalks and a new entrance for the school.

The master plan also includes a “cupola memorial site” near the front lawn where the soaring, red-brick Old Main building now stands in the center of the property.

The plan calls for demolishing Old Main, likely in early fall of this year pending City Council approval of the plan, officials said.

But they are working toward some preservation.

“Eighty percent of the materials in the building will be repurposed in some fashion,” Wooldands Academy Trustee Ralph Elwart said in an email.

He added that bricks from the building will be used on the cupola memorial.

Other elements of the plan include: upkeep of the cemetery in the northwest corner where 50 sisters of the Sacred Heart are buried; and creation of a biking/walking path around the new athletic fields.

The Cooney Building would remain and be used as a multi-purpose indoor gathering space for Woodlands, including receptions, meetings, retreats and shelter from inclement weather during games on the fields.

The academic portion of the campus will remain in the northeast corner of the property.

“We want to disturb as little of the grounds as possible,” Elwart said.

The Commission’s recommendation requires approval by the City Council.

“If not, then the first meeting in September,” Director of Development Cathy Czerniak said Thursday.

Construction began on a cell tower on the site July 22, the first step in the demolition of Old Main and campus expansion.

Cell phone antennas on Old Main will be moved to the new tower before demolition of the iconic structure can begin.

Commissioner Jeff Kuchman asked about the possibility of expanding the cell tower to avoid constructing multiple towers in the future, as well as to provide much-need cell service to the east side of town.

But Michael Williams of Lake Forest, who attended the meeting, said he worried about a possible tower expansion.

“I’m concerned 110 feet would become 150 feet,” Williams said.

The city, however, “specifically approved a cell tower at 110 feet,” Czerniak said.

“We believe 110 feet, along with other new technologies will provide improved service,” she added.

The earliest the new fields would be ready for use is fall 2014, starting with field hockey.

“If there are delays, then we anticipate soccer games and softball games to be played in the new fields in the spring of 2015,” Elwart said.

An anonymous donor gifted the 23-acre former Barat campus to Woodlands after a residential development planned for the property failed.

The Lake Forest City Council approved the expansion of Woodlands boundaries to include the adjacent property in February 2012.

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