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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Barat College property to become a large canvas ... possibilities are endless!

Barat College of the Sacred Heart ~ Lake Forest, IL
Old Main Building erected in 1904 ~ Egan & Prindiville Architects

Last night I attended the community meeting hosted at Woodlands Academy of the Sacred Heart to learn details of the gift of the Barat College campus to Woodlands Academy.  I learned that the anonymous donors' gift is contingent upon the demolition of Old Main and thus a blank canvas will create many opportunities and possibilities for Woodlands Academy and the Lake Forest community as ideas are considered as to how to develop the 23- acre property for the future.

Gerry Grossman, Head of School introduced Ralph Elwart, former Chair of the Board of Trustees and below as printed on the school website are his opening remarks.  Afterwards members of the audience were able to make comments and ask questions.  On behalf of the AASH, I thanked the generosity of the anonymous donor and offered our prayers and support.  While many will be sadden to no longer see the Old Main building which opened its doors in 1904 to 66 boarding students, it is rewarding to know that the site will be used to continue and perhaps expand the Sacred Heart education that over 50,000 current alums throughout the United States have experienced.  
Early 1900's photo of the entrance
Sacred Heart Academy Lake Forest

Woodlands Academy of the Sacred Heart Public Information Session Gloria Dei Project: Acquisition of the Barat Campus
September 20, 2011

On behalf of the Board of Trustees of Woodlands Academy of the Sacred Heart, the faculty and staff, the students and parents and friends of Woodlands, and in particular with thanks and admiration for those brave and visionary Religious of the Sacred Heart who purchased this property 100 years ago, welcome to our school.
My name is Ralph Elwart, and I am a trustee and chair of the Community Relations Task Force of the Board of Trustees. I am also the parent of two alums of Woodlands Academy and I have been a resident of the Second Ward in Lake Forest, where this property is located, for 22 years.

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, which we are calling the Gloria Dei Project. I really should begin by telling you what you already know: we are thrilled and we are still in shock. Some of us cannot stop smiling. For people who live in Lake Forest and for the entire community of Sacred Heart people, the saga of the Barat property over the past few years has covered a period of great uncertainty. So to wake up one morning and to learn that we would not wonder any more who our new neighbors will be -- or how many of them there will be -- comes as a bit of a shock, a wonderful and humbling shock.

Let me share with you how it happened. On July 30, the Board received word from donors who wished to remain anonymous of their intent to purchase the Barat property and to donate it to Woodlands Academy. We then learned more of the details at a board meeting the following week.

The donors negotiated an option to purchase the property by December 20 of this year. 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. It is the donors' intent to provide as much flexibility as possible in allowing Woodlands Academy to develop its plans for the future.

The Barat property is currently zoned R4, which calls for single family homes on lots of approximately one and one-half acres, which is the same zoning for the property owned by Woodlands Academy. For years, probably since the zoning requirements were enacted, Woodlands has been operating under a Special Use Permit for Educational Purposes. This was true as well during the time in our history when Old Main was our home. We anticipate that the two properties will be joined into a single parcel and the Special Use Permit for Educational Purposes will be extended to cover the entire property. Just as an aside, Special Use Permits are also in place for Lake Forest College and Lake Forest Academy.

The donors explained to the board that they would arrange and pay for the demolition of the building and the regrading of the property. Again, the donors intended that the gift to Woodlands Academy would be a blank canvas with endless opportunities. The former library building will remain on the property. Its design -- unlike that of Old Main -- allows for many potential uses and will provide us with an immediate presence on the property. There are no other buildings on the property. Our board members are comfortable with the terms of the gift.

We are hopeful that the City will be in a position to approve the demolition and the extension of the Special Use Permit prior to December 20, using the established city review process. And as a board, we are pledged to work with the city. Given the incredible words of support and excitement we have heard from many, many people, particularly from the Religious of the Sacred Heart, we are very optimistic that the property will once again be used as the nuns originally envisioned.

We know that not everyone in our community will understand or agree with the donors' intent to demolish Old Main. It may occupy a special place in your memory. It does in ours as well. Old Main was built on the land purchased by the Religious of the Sacred Heart in 1901 to become the new home for our school, which at that time was located on Taylor Street in Chicago. Our school moved into Old Main in 1904. It wasn't until 1918 that Barat College was established, occupying the south wing of Old Main. And when we moved across the ravine in 1961 to our new home, our school became known as Woodlands Academy. At that time the property was divided into the two segments which exist today. So, for more than half of our existence in Lake Forest, the Barat property was our home. The thought that the property will once again be joined as one and used for Sacred Heart education is very significant to us.

Given the choice between high density housing, commercial purposes and educational purposes, we believe that using the land for educational purposes will tip the scales in favor of the school in the viewpoint of our neighbors, friends and indeed the community as a whole. We know there will be bumps along the road leading to demolition. But after one hundred years of educating young people, we believe that the strong community support we have treasured will continue and will grow. As one Sacred Heart educator was heard to say, "Sacred Heart was never about buildings; it was always about the girls." In the end, we trust that people will stand with us and look to the exciting future of one of the oldest institutions in Lake Forest.

Some members of our community have been giving thought to how we may maintain the memory of Old Main. And several ideas have been put on the table. My only hesitation in sharing all of them with you is that there may be more creative ideas out there that we haven't thought of, and we wouldn't want those lost. I will tell you that one idea involved creative uses for some of the bricks. I hope that will give you something to think about. We are very interested in hearing any and all ideas you have. This is an important step for us in the planning process. If anything occurs to you, please see one of the notetakers after the meeting. We don't want to miss any outstanding ideas.

So, what we are doing now? Beginning to plan for the future. Three task forces have been established by the Board, and they are made up of various members of the Woodlands community, including trustees, parents, administration, faculty, neighbors and friends:

  • The Information Task Force, chaired by Trustee Anna Donnelly. Its charge is to "reach out to the broadest possible community to collect opinions about what Woodlands should do with the new property." It will develop "big picture possibilities," as our Head of School, Mr. Gerry Grossman has said. In fact, an initial survey has been sent to the Woodlands community.
  • The Design Task Force, chaired by Trustee Shay Cullen. Its charge is to "use the data collected by the Information Task Force to create both a conceptual design for the new property and an executive summary about that conceptual design." Its job is to give shape and form to those possibilities.
  • And the Community Relations Task Force, which I chair. Its charge is to "make recommendations on actions that will facilitate relations with each constituency." In short, its job is to keep the various constituencies engaged and informed.

The purpose of these task forces is, in the end, to begin sketching out the first draft of the plans for the future. As you can tell from their charges, the task forces will draw heavily on the comments from the community.

We will also look for suggestions from people with experience and expertise. Lake Forest Open Lands and the Lake Forest Preservation Foundation and groups with similar interests may have suggestions about our use of the property. When action by the City is necessary, the process will be open, and you can follow along on the City's website. We encourage you to provide the City and us with your comments. We will keep in touch with you as the planning process progresses. This gift will mean much more to us if our friends and neighbors are part of the process.

I feel compelled to say a word about rumors. We have already heard a number of them and they range from the plausible to the ridiculous. If -- no, WHEN you hear a rumor, please call the school, and we will either confirm or deny it. I can tell you that at present any rumor you may have heard about the plans for the future is untrue. It is way too early in the process and no plans have been developed. The best way to handle rumors is with the truth -- and you can get that by emailing your question to or by calling the school.  We will do our best to respond to any and all inquiries. We ask, as well, that you understand that we are not a large institution and that we have a school to operate and a student body which deserves our full attention.

The Religious of the Sacred Heart have done an excellent job of training the independent boards of the 23 Sacred Heart schools across the country. Their example has shown us that in planning for the future, the time frame is measured in generations and not in weeks or months. Indeed, as a board it is our job to plan for the financial integrity and overall health and stability of the institution both for the children and for the grandchildren of our current students. So please do not expect to hear our plans overnight. This is truly a time when haste can make waste. We will take our time and make certain that we do this the right way.

Every time we hear the name Barat, we are reminded that the Religious Order dedicated to education was founded by St. Madeleine Sophie Barat. And how fitting is it that this property will continue to be dedicated to education, in the tradition of those very early Religious of the Sacred Heart. Indeed, some of the early pioneers, who taught at our school before and after it moved from Taylor Street in Chicago to Lake Forest, are buried in the cemetery on this property. That's commitment, and that's how strong the tie is with Sacred Heart education.

And so our work begins. One hundred years ago this month, Janet Erskine Stuart became the fifth Superior General of the Religious of the Sacred Heart -- not long after the Lake Forest campus opened. Mother Stuart once said that educating students is like teaching construction: It is not necessary to teach students how to build entire buildings. Instead, one should teach students how to build strong foundations, and then leave it to the students to build the buildings of their dreams.

This property gives us a strong foundation upon which we can build the building of our dreams, bringing new life to the Barat campus. Thank you for coming and for your attention and for your interest in Woodlands Academy.


  1. To read more about last night click here -

  2. I was a student at Woodlands since little and until I finished high school. I went to college in Barat... I am so sad to see Old Main go...

  3. Oct 4th - Update on the story can be found on the Lake Forest-Lake Bluff Patch...

    To view this article click on the link below -

  4. Oct 27th - Update on this story can be found on the Lake Forest-Lake Bluff Patch...

    To view this article click on the link below -

  5. Thanks for sharing this informative blog with us.I think you provide best information.

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