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posted: 8/16/2012 12:50 PM

District 200 seeks community input on facilities

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Wheaton Warrenville Unit District 200 officials will seek community input this fall as they explore scenarios to revamp their aging facilities.

Prime among the district's concerns is the future of the Jefferson Early Childhood Center. Opened in 1958, officials say the building at 130 N. Hazelton Ave. in Wheaton was designed for elementary school students, not the district's youngest learners.

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Chicago-based Legat Architects presented design plans for a new facility at a committee of the whole meeting in May. One proposal would raze the 26,507-square-foot building when a new one opens on what is now an athletic field at the 10-acre site near the DuPage County Fairgrounds.

But voters would need to approve a referendum question for the district to construct a new school, Superintendent Brian Harris said, and the earliest the district could place such a question on the ballot would be in April 2013.

"No matter what, (even) if we don't ask for any money -- let's say we just pay for it with the money we currently have -- we still have to get permission from the community to build a new school, Harris said."

The school board, meanwhile, voted 6-0 Wednesday to approve a $15,200, one-year agreement with Rosemont-based ECRA Group, a research and consulting firm, to conduct a community survey and gauge feedback on a variety of the district's facility needs.

The firm is expected to conduct the survey in October and outline its findings for district officials by their November school board meeting -- a timeline that would align with a potential spring referendum question.

"If we do choose to go to referendum at some point later on in the school year, we want to make an informed choice," Harris said. "I think if we have some information there, it will help us make a good decision and put it out in front of voters and ask for their approval."

While they have not yet finalized the survey questions, district officials are looking for input on numerous issues, including Jefferson, a broader development scheme, energy efficiency and funding for projects, Harris said.

"Even though Jefferson is our knottiest problem right now, there will be other things we are finding out from the community in terms of capital needs and such," school board President Rosemary Swanson said.

As part of the agreement with ECRA Group, the firm will recommend questions for a series of community forums at Jefferson that will include tours of the building. The forums are set for 6 p.m. Aug. 27, Aug. 30 and Sept. 4 and 9:30 a.m. Sept. 10.

The architectural plans presented in May estimated the cost of a new Jefferson near $18.3 million. That figure would rise to an estimated $24.6 million if the district decided to move its administrative offices to the new building and add a second floor for offices in a wing along Manchester Road.

The district offices currently are in the School Service Center at 130 W. Park Ave. in Wheaton. Design plans also suggested upgrading that facility for expanded training space or storage of vehicles.

Another property the district is considering is the former Woodland School in Warrenville. The school shuttered in 1978 and serves as a district storage facility. Two proposals call for selling the property or updating it for additional office space and storage of vehicles.

The 20-school district serves more than 13,400 students in Wheaton, Warrenville and portions of Carol Stream, Winfield and West Chicago.

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