Faced with the prospect of losing federal grants, the board of directors of Chicago Executive Airport voted unanimously Wednesday to close a runway because a school is located less than 1000 feet from its west end.
The short runway handles about 3 percent to 5 percent of the Wheeling airport's operations, primarily smaller planes.
The two towns that own the airfield, Wheeling and Prospect Heights, need to approve the closing and are expected to vote in the next few weeks.
The decision came after Wheeling approved a permit last year for Alexander Graham Bell Montessori School to operate, not realizing that the Federal Aviation Administration would say the property is included within a " runway protection zone" that should be kept free of tall structures.
"The school itself wasn't in the runway protection zone," said Sandy Mosetick, president of the non-profit school. "It was just going to be a little corner of the parking lot."
The FAA notified the airport of its concerns in October and said allowing the school to operate there could jeopardize future FAA grants, said airport board Chairman Kevin Dohm. By that time, the school had spent about $1.3 million to buy the 2.5-acre site at the southeast corner of South and Capitol Drives and had begun soil work.
The Montessori school in Prospect Heights has about 42 students, according to Principal Carol Martorano. The airport proposed a land swap, but the school rejected a 3.5-acre site because of how much improvements would cost.
That led to the decision to close runway 6-24. "We don't want to close a runway, but I don't think we have any choice," said Dohm, a United Airlines pilot who learned to fly at the airport. He added that the runway doesn't meet current FAA standards.
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