Rosecrance Day School leaves River District

Rosecrance Day School leaves River District

By Shellie Berg

By Shellie Berg

Staff Reporter

On Monday, July 16, the Rockford City Council approved the proposal for a zoning variance to move the controversial Rosecrance Youth Academy Day School, 420 E. State St., to Eastrock Industrial Park, 5279 28th Avenue.

Rosecrance will combine the academy day school with the Rose Tech Industries program housed at Eastrock.

The academy day school is a private, transitional school for young people at risk and provides an educational curriculum, job skills training, counseling, therapy and community service. Rose Tech provides job training and transitional employment for those in recovery who are unable to make the transition immediately from treatment to work.

Rosecrance has roughly three and a half years remaining on the lease at the East State location. Rosecrance presently has outpatient services there, which will continue until the lease runs out or if it is able to sublet the space.

Rosecrance President/CEO Phil Eaton said there’s more space at the Eastrock location for the day school.

Eaton indicated that Rosecrance promised the East State Street location would be temporary. “The Academy Day School has operated at its present site for 27 months very successfully,” he said. “There now is a track record. The impact that the Academy Day School has had actually has been quite positive. They’ve been involved with a number of community organizations.”

Rosecrance faced heavy opposition during the process of moving to State. But Eaton indicated the opposition was unwarranted. “I think it was—as it’s been demonstrated—it was groundless,” he stated. “We’ve been good neighbors and virtually invisible in that neighborhood. These kids don’t just drop from the sky.

“They live in our community. The program lessens the threat of that transition and increases the odds of them being successful and good community citizens. I think the misnomer and misunderstanding is if the Academy Day School doesn’t exist, the kids won’t exist.”

John Clark, plant manager for Rockford Secondaries Company, which does secondaries on fasteners in Eastrock, said he’s not worried about any potential problems. “They’ve been there as Rose Tech,” he said. “They’ve been tremendous. They’ve cleaned the place up real nice.”

But Rosecrance failed to receive the same kind of welcome when it wanted to locate in the River District. Many people worried that students from Rosecrance could pose a threat, and the facility might be detrimental to development.

Protesters included Greg and Lulu Watt, the River District, the Haight Village Restoration Society, Ricotta Automotive, the Lollipop Shoppe, Capri restaurant, the Surf Lounge, Rockford Furniture, Paragon, New American Theater and The Rock River Times.

Former River District President Larry Morrissey, speaking only on behalf of himself, said the main issue concerned development. “It could hinder on overall, long-term development in the area,” he stated.

In the Sept. 22-28, 1999 issue of The Rock River Times, a press release from the River District states, “The proposed facility contradicts River District’s mission to create an economically viable business, residential, and entertainment corridor.

“When the Zoning Board of Appeals unanimously voted against the prior location, it made specific findings that the proposed facility would damage surrounding property values and would otherwise be contrary to the health, safety and welfare of the area.”

It also refers to an application filed by Greg and Lulu Watt, who bought the Farmer’s Rug Cleaning building, 414A E. State, to use as storefront and as a residence. It was adjacent to the day school.

They filed an application to appeal a zoning decision by the city’s Planning Coordinator Wayne Dust, who considered the parole program a permitted use.

A statement that accompanied the protest said, “Rosecrance’s foisting of this unwelcome facility into a vital and growing residential and commercial district is unreasonable and unconscionable. Clearly, this use violates the zoning ordinance 800.3 C-2 COMMERCIAL DISTRICT, A. PURPOSE causing ‘undue traffic congestion or otherwise have a detrimental influence upon an area.”

Frank Schier, editor and publisher of The Rock River Times, said, “There have been reports of car break-ins near the Rosecrance facility. However, those happen everywhere and were never proven to be attributable to Rosecrance students. Other residents complained about students congregating outside the facility smoking. However, once the administrators were aware of that problem, they solved it. Rosecrance made a great effort at being good neighbors, and I personally think they did a good job.

“However, the editorial position of this paper still asserts that the River District has a disproportionate share of the area’s social service organizations. That real estate should be available for the future commercial growth of the River District. I hope the plan the River District is drawing up in conjunction with the Park District and City of Rockford will contain zoning changes that grandfather in any existing social service agency, and ban any new ones. Such zoning exists in Milwaukee and Chicago and would be wise here, too.

“I wish Rosecrance the best; they seem to be a fine and effective organization,” Schier said.

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