District 117 says new junior high would be cheaper than addition

Conrady could be rebuilt for $36.8 million

(From Oct. 4, 2012)

Several hundred residents of Palos Hills and Hickory Hills came through the doors of Conrady Junior High last Saturday and sent a clear message to North Palos School District 117's Conrady Citizens Advisory Committee.

Tear the building down.

District 117 is considering renovating and expanding Conrady, 7950 W. 97th St. in Hickory Hills, and held open houses Saturday and again Tuesday to let people see for themselves the condition of the 47-year-old building. The Citizens Advisory Committee was created in May to examine ways to improve the school.

Open house attendees saw hanging electrical wires, mismatched and cracked floor tiles, uncovered fluorescent lights, and overcrowded classrooms and faculty spaces. The school's faculty lounge cannot accommodate all its teachers at once, which makes it futile to hold staff meetings, according to District 117 officials. Some classrooms are so overcrowded teachers have to conduct group work in hallways because it is impossible to put the students' desks in a configuration that would allow for collaboration, district officials claim. Some classes are taught in converted storage spaces near Conrady's music rooms. A school psychologist began working in an office this year - for three years before that she was working in a closet-sized space that was connected to a school bathroom, district officials said.

Advisory Committee spokeswoman Shari Schmidt, the parent of twin third-grade girls who will eventually attend Conrady, said the event provided an interesting opportunity to talk with members of the community, and that most attendees "couldn't believe kids went to school here."

"We need everything from a new roof, to changes with the lighting, because the lighting is so old, we can't find parts for it anymore," Schmidt said. "We hope they were able to see firsthand some of the concerns that have been raised about Conrady as they relate to educating our students."

District 117 has renovated other schools but not Conrady, which was built in 1965, Schmidt said.

"We have ladders that hold up the wiring, because our ceiling is our roof," said Conrady Assistant Principal Sia Albans said.

The lack of an adequate science lab is also a concern, according to Conrady Principal Andrew Anderson.

"In our science lab, we have the minimum code requirements - eye wash stations and tables, and some towels, but no space for experiments," Anderson said. "We need to make the transition to 21st century learning, and we have to deal with our space constraints. We are competing on a global stage, and we have concerns about the opportunities and options available for our students."

The state of Conrady's science lab leaves students unprepared once they get to high school, Albans said.

"Serious" changes to the school's electrical system have to be made - there are electrical cords running along the ceilings of some of the classrooms because there is no other space for the wires, and the building's electricity is so old the building cannot support computers.

"We had some people who went to Conrady who are grandparents now, who said they didn't have a computer when they went to school, so the kids don't need computers," Schmidt said.