Orland Park Mayor Keith Pekau is in favor of building a new school on the Fernway Elementary School property in his town. (Photo by Jeff Vorva)

Orland Park Mayor Keith Pekau is in favor of building a new school on the Fernway Elementary School property in his town. (Photo by Jeff Vorva)

Despite concerns from Orland Hills mayor, Orland Park on board with new Fernway School

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By Jeff Vorva

Village of Orland Park officials are giving thumbs-up to a plan to build a new school on the property of existing Fernway Park Elementary School.

Fernway is located at 16600 S. 88th Avenue and is a part of the Kirby School District 140 group of schools, but is the only one in Orland Park. The other six are in Tinley Park.

The new school would be approximately 95,000 square feet plus there will be outdoor recreational facilities. The old building would be demolished after the new school is built.

During a recent Plan Commission meeting, Orland Hills Mayor Kyle Hastings brought up concerns about stormwater management, construction logistics, traffic circulation and other items.

The Plan Commission voted 5-1, with one member absent, to approve District 140’s request and it was brought to the Orland Park board’s Committee of the Whole meeting on May 15.

Orland Park Mayor Keith Pekau said he was in favor of the new school despite Hastings’ reservations.

“He said his engineers don’t agree with our plan or with the school’s plan,” Pekau said.

Pekau added that that it’s not the school’s job to mitigate “poor planning” regarding stormwater from neighboring Westhaven Subdivision, which is an Orland Hills subdivision.  He said three sets of engineers judged that the project meets the proper requirements.

“It really floors me that a mayor who is building not one, but two drug dens, one of which is very close to two schools, would be against a new school for the students [in his town to go to],” Pekau said. “Since this school also educates students that reside in Orland Park, I find this unacceptable. I wholeheartedly support this project and building a new school for the children of Orland Park, Tinley Park and Orland Hills.”

Looking ahead

The board and village staff members continue to hammer out a plan through 2027 and there were deep discussions on capital improvement and financial planning.

Pekau said that poor decisions by previous boards hurt the village before he took over and the board has been trying to make up for that in recent years. He said that it’s time to look ahead and there might be more tough decisions ahead.

“We’ve made a lot of hard decisions, but we simply can’t squeeze any more juice out of this orange without major cuts to service or irresponsibly neglecting capital needs,” he said. “For me, and the board, this is not an option.

“That means an increase in revenue. The state shorting us $74 million and some very poor decisions before any of us arrived here from the village shorted us at least $92 million and debatably as much as $122 million.  Either of these and we would have zero need for more revenue and could easily cover any differences with debt. That is why long-term planning with fact is so important.”

Some of the future plans include implementing a utility tax, increasing home rule sales tax 0.5% [which does not apply to titled goods, groceries and some other goods], eliminating vehicle stickers, and implementing a target to lower property taxes to 5% of the overall property tax bill, which is currently 6.2%.

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