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updated: 8/26/2013 4:19 PM

District 200 to ask residents: What do you want?

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  • Barbara Intihar

      Barbara Intihar

  • Brian Harris

      Brian Harris

  • Crowded conditions at Jefferson Early Childhood Center in Wheaton have made it necessary to conduct some classroom activities in the hallways.

       Crowded conditions at Jefferson Early Childhood Center in Wheaton have made it necessary to conduct some classroom activities in the hallways.
    Scott Sanders | Staff Photographer

 
 

In April, Wheaton Warrenville Unit District 200 voters resoundingly said no to building a new $17.6 million Jefferson Early Childhood Center.

Now the district wants to see exactly what the community will say yes to.

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In coming weeks the district will launch a series of community engagement meetings to take residents' pulse on numerous district issues.

"Before we ran the Jefferson referendum, we did a community survey and we touched on several things. That survey told us that a Jefferson referendum had a good chance of passing," board President Barbara Intihar said.

"Obviously that survey did not go far enough into garnering what our community really feels," she said. "Either that or they understood there was a problem that needed to be solved but they didn't like the solution."

Superintendent Brian Harris will meet Wednesday afternoon with the district's two community engagement committee members, Jim Vroman and Brad Paulsen, to begin the process.

"We're going to take two steps back to take a step forward. We're going to go out into the community, provide an opportunity for focus groups and try to get a broader sense of what the community would support," Harris said. "Not only in (Jefferson) but maybe some of the others as well. Through our master facility plan, we've identified nearly $10 million of capital improvement needs across the district."

Included in that list is about $1.7 million for improvements to both Wheaton Warrenville South High School and Johnson Elementary School and $1.2 million for Franklin Middle School.

The needs of Jefferson, however, are likely to be the focus because officials say the facility is aging and outdated. They say they have identified substantial instructional and physical challenges at the school, where two-thirds of the students, ages 3 to 5, have special needs.

Not all of the bathrooms or entrances, for example, are accessible to students who use wheelchairs and walkers. Some students receive therapy at the end of hallways and in converted storage closets at the 1950s-era building, originally designed as an elementary school.

"It's the most needy facility in the district," Harris said. "It is our only facility that has not had any capital needs put into it. We're doing general maintenance but Jefferson is still running its original core structure and boiler."

Despite the need, Intihar said she believes the community engagement process also will point out needs and desires relating to district programs or finances.

"Jefferson is our facility that is in most need but it's incorrect to say we're doing this community engagement so we can figure out what to do about Jefferson because it's much broader than that," Intihar said. "We may get out of this something like a desire to start a foreign language program in kindergarten because there will be an academic component to all of this.

"Everything you do costs money so we're trying to assess 'What do you want? and 'Are you willing to pay for it?' and get a feeling from the community about what their expectations are for us."

Intihar promised a possible referendum question is "not even on the table at this point."

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