Evergreen Dist. 124 considering options for Central Junior High

Expansion plan could cost $10M

          The Evergreen Park School District 124 board of education is considering four options for a proposed project that would establish grade centers at the district’s four elementary schools and move 170 sixth-graders to Central Junior High.

          Some district officials believe re-designating the four elementary buildings as grade centers, rather than maintaining the neighborhood school format, and moving sixth-graders to Central would give students more opportunities for science and physical education classes. The plan would address overcrowding issues at the elementary schools but require an addition to the junior high.

          Four plans were presented by FGM Architects at the board’s meeting April 17. Any addition to Central would necessitate

          One plan which would cost between $5.6 and $8.4 million and add a three-story, 20,000-square-foot addition on the east side of the building, 9400 Sawyer Ave. About 6,000 square feet of space would be renovated. The project would renovate a science lab into a fitness room, and move the library and administrative offices to another area of the school.

          Any of the proposed projects would include the addition eight classrooms, two science labs, and a security vestibule that would feature a series of doors for entry into the building. District 124 Superintendent Robert Machak said security is the main focus of the entire project.

          Another option would cost between $8.6 million and $10.1 million, and would include a two-story addition on the south end of the building, eight classrooms, two science labs, and fit 200 students. The project would also switch the locations of the library and administrative offices, Machak said.

          The third option would cost between $10.7 and $12.3 million, and would include a three-level addition at the south end of the school. The first level would be below ground level, and add on to the existing multipurpose room below the school. The school now has two science labs back to back, and students have to walk through a science room to get to the other side of the hallway. The project would add a hallway and create a new stairway to make the second story of the school accessible. The fourth option would cost between $9.5 and $10.9 million, and would include a new entryway and renovated administrative offices. The principal’s office would be converted into two small classrooms, and two science labs would be converted into fitness space.

          The district could use existing funds to cover the cost of an addition, or seek voter approval through a referendum to issue up to $10 million in building bonds. Machak said a referendum is not a popular option, but district officials would prefer to go to referendum so the district’s reserve funds are not depleted.

          “We have enough money in our reserves to fund this project with existing revenue, but we would be depleting all of our fund balances down to zero,” Machak said. “Besides renovating Central Junior High, we are trying to increase our technology programs and hire teachers.”

          The district has $15 million in reserves, with some of the money earmarked for a plumbing project at Central and roof repairs at Central, Northwest and Northeast schools.

        The district has a third option: the board has the authority to issue the bonds without voter approval. Voters could object such a decision through a “back-door” referendum.

         “Instead of going to the community and asking if they would support us, it is the opposite,” Machak said. “We say, ‘we are planning to do this,’ and the community needs to speak up and sign petitions if they object.”

          If the district does go to referendum, the bond would be paid off over 13 years starting in the 2014-15 school year, Gerdes said. The district’s total property tax rate is $4.42, but what that would increase to is undetermined because the 2012-13 levy has not been finalized, Gerdes said.

Machak believes moving sixth-graders to Central would be beneficial for the students.

       “The numbers don’t play into wanting to move the sixth graders to Central and make it a middle school instead of a junior high,” Machak said. “We want to incorporate a middle school philosophy. Sixth-graders would be able to experience a daily science class in a science lab as opposed to in a classroom.

     Sixth-graders would get daily physical education classes, and get a regular rotation of art, music and technology classes, Machak said. They would also be able to participate in the junior high’s sports programs, and have more accessibility to after school clubs and activities at the junior high than at the K-6 buildings, he added.

       The move would also help alleviate overcrowding at the elementary schools.

      “There are space issues and out of the entire district, we don’t have a single free room,” Machak said. “For the rooms that are not big enough to be classrooms, they are office space or meeting rooms.”

          School board president Kathy Rohan said the renovation and moving the sixth graders to Central might not eliminate the temporary classrooms at the elementary schools. There are two classrooms per trailer, and the district has one trailer each at Southwest and Northwest schools and two trailers each at Southeast and Northeast schools.

       “We have been out of space for quite some time,” Rohan said. “We need classrooms. We are required by the state of Illinois to provide them with a plan to eliminate the temporary classrooms, and we have been unable to do that.”

      Bringing the sixth graders to Central would also allow students to stay together, Rohan said.

      “Since it is in a central location, it will bring all of our students together for an additional year,” Rohan said. “Right now, they start there in seventh grade, learn their way around and are just starting to feel comfortable, and then in the next year, they’re leaving.”

           At least one board member is concerned about a decrease in enrollment at Central.

         “We have to always look at what is coming up, and enrollment numbers are shocking. We are going down by 77 students or 69 students in certain grades. That’s drastically going down.”

         Rohan acknowledged enrollment in the district is decreasing, but by closer to 30 or 40 students, not as drastically as Amado thought.