Conditions of the anonymous gift that will reunite the campuses of Woodlands Academy of the Sacred Heart and the former Barat College after a 50-year separation will include demolition of the main Barat building.
Lake Forest resident Ralph Elwart, a trustee at Woodlands Academy, brought up that point early in his remarks during Tuesday's public meeting before more than 150 people in the Lake Forest school's chapel.
“The purchase is contingent upon the city’s approval of the demolition of Old Main as well as any zoning approvals with the result that the property will be used solely for educational purposes,” said Elwart, who has had two daughters graduate from the school.
- See related story: Woodlands Academy Will Examine Uses for Donated Barat Land
Preserving Old Main
Anticipating some people would object to the demolition of Old Main, Elwart indicated ideas already were being discussed to maintain the structure’s memory, such as creative use of the bricks. He wants no limits on ideas and does not want to stifle anyone’s imagination. He also understands the mission of the school is education.
“As one Sacred Heart educator was heard to say, ‘Sacred Heart was never about buildings; it was always about the girls,’ ” Elwart said. “We trust that people will stand with us and look to the future of one of the oldest institutions in Lake Forest.”
The donors acquired an option to purchase the property from Harris Bank by Dec. 20.
All expenses of the approval process and the demolition will be paid by the donors before the property is given to Woodlands, according to Head of School Gerald Grossman.
“We also have to have a plan on how we are going to use it, but (the donors) won’t hold us strictly to it,” Grossman said.
Woodlands has a relatively blank canvass to develop a plan to use the property as long as the use is education-related.
“It is the donor's intent to provide as much flexibility as possible in allowing Woodlands Academy to develop its plans for the future,” Elwart said.
Tuesday’s meeting was the first of many steps to developing a plan for the property. Elwart announced the formation of three committees — the information task force, the design task force and the community relations task force — consisting of trustees, parents, administration, faculty neighbors and friends of Woodlands to help guide the process.
“The purpose of the meeting tonight is to begin a conversation with the community about this remarkable gift and about the future of Woodlands Academy,” Elwart said.
Noting the name of the endeavor is the Gloria Dei Project, Elwart touched on the historical roots of the land when The Order of the Sacred Heart initially acquired the 44-acre parcel at the northwest corner of Westleigh and Sheridan Roads in 1904.
Adding a Boys' Campus
Tuesday night, several audience members talked about a day when young men might be educated on the campus along with women, including Associated Alumnae and Alumni of Sacred Heart President Maureen Elizabeth Ryan and parent Mary Anderson.
Peter Alsberg, also of Lake Forest, jokingly voiced his twin freshmen daughters' support of such a move.
“They would like to see a boys’ school. I, on the other hand, don’t share their enthusiasm,” he said straight-faced.
While a coeducational institution with boys and girls in the same classrooms might not be an idea that will be entertained, a separate school for young men on the same campus is not out of the question, according to Grossman.
“We are experts on educating girls,” Grossman said. “If we ever have a high school (for boys), we would want to create a school with experts on educating boys. A coed school is not part of the conversation.”
Margaret Logan of Lake Forest told the group about her days as a student at Woodlands. She reminisced about the strength of the arts programs at both Barat and the high school.
“We were always known for performing arts at a high level,” she said.
Logan noted that using part of the land to expand on the school's music education program could also be an opportunity to partner with the Lake Forest Symphony and others.
Elwart hopes to expand the conversation beyond the task forces to potentially interested groups like Lake Forest Open Lands and the Lake Forest Preservation Foundation. He stressed inclusiveness throughout the entire process.
“The purpose of these task forces is to begin sketching out the first draft of the plans for the future,” Elwart said. “The task forces will draw heavily on comments from the community.”
To send a suggestion to Woodlands Academy, send an email to: email@example.com, or call the school at 1-847-234-4300 and ask for the Idea Hotline.