A science and tech school Aurora University hopes will become a model for educators across the state is edging closer to reality, bringing with it plans for a new welcome center, gateway arch and parking that will expand and update the campus.
University officials said groundbreaking is scheduled for August on the John C. Dunham STEM Partnership School, which will teach a science, technology, engineering and math-focused curriculum to third- through eighth-grade students.
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"We hope fundraising will be complete and we will have the bidding ready," said Bruce Goldsmith, an attorney for the university.
The university is working to raise $12 million to build the school, aiming to have it open to students by the 2014-15 school year, said Thomas Hammond, vice president for administration. As of November, $7 million had been promised from donors, including foundations of companies such as Caterpillar, Dart, Exelon and Tellabs.
The STEM school is part of a broader plan to expand the campus south to accommodate a growing student population and expanding programs.
Also in the works are a gateway arch over Calumet Avenue at Prairie Street, a welcome center that will house a relocated Schingoethe Center for Native American Cultures and a parking lot to replace spots taken by the future location of the STEM school.
University officials said the STEM school will be built immediately south of the science facility Stephens Hall as a separate but connected building on Gladstone Avenue.
Teachers and students from four Aurora-area school districts -- East Aurora, Indian Prairie, Oswego and West Aurora -- will staff and learn at the school, which got the go-ahead to be developed from a change to the state school code Gov. Pat Quinn approved in July 2011.
The new parking lot will be constructed first to ensure the university provides the required number of spots. But the STEM school is the highest-profile part of the plan, with Quinn calling it an "innovative school" that will "increase learning opportunities in science, technology, engineering and mathematics and give students more opportunities to succeed."
As the university seeks additional funding for the STEM school and prepares to build the gateway arch, welcome center and new parking, officials also are seeking city approval for their plans.
Aldermen gave preliminary approval Tuesday to two measures that could allow the projects to move forward -- a request to rezone 439 S. Calumet Ave. and 1400 Southlawn Place so the university can expand into those areas, and a request to take control of portions of Calumet Avenue, Randall Road and Southlawn Place.
Final approval of the rezoning and street control is likely to come at the city council's next meeting at 6 p.m. Tuesday, June 11, at city hall, 44 E. Downer Place.