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updated: 9/29/2011 5:16 PM

Groundbreaking next week for West Chicago middle school expansion

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The construction fence is up, the earth movers are on site and groundbreaking is set for next week.

Work is ready to start on the expansion and renovation of West Chicago Middle School that voters approved last spring.

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"We're getting off and running, so (it's) very, very exciting," Superintendent Ed Leman said.

The groundbreaking ceremony is set for 6 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 6, in the field outside the middle school, 238 E. Hazel St. West Chicago Elementary District 33 so far has borrowed $31.5 million for the project, which is expected to be finished for the start of the 2013-14 school year.

Voters gave the district permission to borrow $39 million for the expansion, as well as renovation work at some of its older schools. District officials pledged to keep the bond and interest portion of the tax rate steady, and now that property values have fallen, the district will be able to borrow some more but not the full amount, Leman said.

As a result, planned renovations at aging Turner and Gary elementary schools will have to be scaled back, he said.

Phase 1 of the middle school expansion includes excavation of the site, renovation of the lower southeast wing that will become the new kitchen and serving area and new construction starting on the west end of the new section of the school.

A few mobile classrooms will be used during Phase 1. PE classes will be held inside, and fall sports such as soccer and cross-country will have more "away" events, school officials said.

To allow as much time as possible for construction next summer, classes likely won't begin until after Labor Day for the 2012-2013 school year, Leman said. That's about two weeks later than the first day of school this year.

A calendar committee that includes parents will begin meeting this fall to craft next year's school calendar.

The building design incorporates "learning neighborhoods," clusters of five classrooms with a small common space, student lockers and teacher offices; natural light; some low-cost energy-efficient features; and a combination cafeteria and auditorium.

"It needs to be nice and it needs to last for a long time, but it also needs to be conservative," Leman said. "It's not opulent by any stretch."

Once construction starts, the district plans to have a web camera so people can watch the progress online. Detailed plans for the expansion and other information can be found on the district's website, wego33.org.

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