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updated: 9/13/2012 3:56 PM

Dist. 200 wants more input on Jefferson facility

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Wheaton Warrenville Unit District 200 officials will be asking a broader section of the community for feedback on the future of the Jefferson Early Childhood Center after a series of forums at the Wheaton facility attracted only 62 people.

Officials will mail a survey Sept. 24 to about 35,000 homes in the district to gather input on the building at 130 N. Hazelton Ave. and other aging facilities. Last month, the school board approved a $15,200, one-year agreement with Rosemont-based ECRA Group to conduct the survey and analyze the data for a presentation at the Nov. 14 board meeting.

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The district opted to include the survey with its annual end-of-the-year report to save postage costs. An option to complete the survey online will further reduce costs, Superintendent Brian Harris said.

"If we get a 15 percent response, we'll be thrilled," Harris said.

The school board has identified Jefferson as the top priority in a list of capital needs across the district, but has not formally voted on design or funding scenarios. Board members also are considering a potential referendum question in April 2013 on plans for a new building.

Before the board narrows in on a course of action, officials are highlighting the services at Jefferson -- where more than half of the student population has special needs. Tours during the four community forums, which wrapped up Monday, showed converted storage closets serving as instructional spaces and areas at the end of hallways where students receive sensory therapy.

District spokeswoman Erica Loiacono announced at a board meeting Wednesday night the forums drew 62 people, mostly neighbors of Jefferson voicing concerns about the loss of green space in conceptual designs.

Based on that initial input, officials plan to review survey questions, still in the draft phase, and meet with Legat Architects to determine if the Chicago-based firm can adjust proposals presented at the forums and at a May board meeting.

Two design concepts presented by Legat Architects at the forums would demolish the 26,507-square-foot Jefferson and build a new facility on what is now an athletic space at the 10-acre site near the DuPage County Fairgrounds. The footprint would increase to 62,900 square feet with a capacity of about 360 to 380 students.

The firm has pegged the cost of the new Jefferson near $18.3 million, but that figure would jump to an estimated $24.6 million if the board decided to move the district's administrative offices to the site. The offices currently sit in the School Service Center in Wheaton, another aging facility under review.

If the board does pursue a referendum, it would likely ask voters whether the district can borrow funds to construct a new Jefferson, Harris said.

Other funding options could include some or the remainder of a $14.4 million construction grant the district received earlier this year from the state Capital Development Board. In 2003, the district applied for the grant to fund classroom additions at Wheaton North and Wheaton Warrenville South high schools.

In June, the school board approved using a portion of the grant -- about $2.8 million -- to pay off a five-year lease for network upgrades unveiled more than a year ago, including the addition of wireless Internet access in all district schools.

For now, the district is focused on gauging input, Harris said.

"We really encourage, I can't stress it enough, to have the community help us out and provide feedback as we move forward," he said.

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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