More than 100 special-needs students will be attending school in a new building this fall, as the Bartlett Learning Center is closing its current location and moving to downtown Wheaton.
The center opened in 1968 at 801 Carillon Drive in a building that had been built a few years earlier. It was founded by the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Third Order of St. Francis.
The school has the capacity for about 130 students ages 5 to 22 with learning and developmental disabilities. About 100 students are currently enrolled from about 37 area school districts.
Principal John Utterback said both the Bartlett and Wheaton locations are about 45,000 square feet, but the current location is not ideal for improvements that will need to be made in years to come.
"They could not anticipate what technology would look like in the future," he said, adding that the building has 8-inch concrete walls in some areas. "Renovations would be prohibitively expensive."
Although the current building wasn't ideal, the main reason for the move was that the landlord was terminating the lease, Utterback said. He added that the village wanted the school to install a costly sprinkler system and, in the end, the move works out because the Wheaton location is a good fit.
"We are actually going to get out a year early because we found suitable property," he said of the lease, which was to expire in 2014.
The new location, near the corner of Seminary Avenue and Main Street, was once part of St. John Lutheran School. It has newer classrooms, as the building was built in stages between the 1950s and 1990s. It also includes a full-size gym, stage and kitchen. Utterback did not have a cost estimate for the remodeling and repairs that need to be done to the new location.
"We want to make it the best possible condition that we can. We want to ensure the highest level of safety for our students," he said, adding that it will be a transition to go from a wooded, private area in Bartlett to the center of Wheaton.
Linda Danner, the school's development director, has worked at the Bartlett Learning Center for 33 years and cried when she heard the news it would be moving.
"I know there's some things we won't be able to reproduce," she said, adding, however, that they'll just have to make new memories. "I'm so excited to move to the new building."
Currently, students travel from as far away as Belvidere, Joliet, Highland Park and Lake Zurich to attend the school, and the new commute may be hard at first, Utterback said.
"In the short term, it will be difficult for some of our parents," he said. "They may ultimately decide they need a placement (at a school) closer to their home."
However, Utterback hopes the new location will also attract new students.
"I think we have a great reputation," he said. "We are looking forward to a new community with new contacts with new location opportunities. We invite all the people in Wheaton to come see us and to work with us in our mission."
A date has not been set yet for the school's ribbon cutting, but Utterback anticipates it will occur around the second week in August.