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updated: 11/12/2013 5:38 AM

A step toward more classrooms in District 41

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Glen Ellyn Elementary District 41's school board unanimously approved moving forward with phase one of its facilities project on Monday -- but not before one board member voiced caution about the next steps.

The board agreed to the schematic designs and construction timeline that will allow the administration to solicit bids on a nearly $15.6 million project to add four flexible classrooms each at Franklin, Lincoln, Churchill and Forest Glen schools. Bids will be due to the district in January, with presentation of bid results to the board for approval in March.

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The target goal is to begin additions at Franklin and potentially Lincoln by the summer of 2014, with completion of all the work over the next two to three summers. The additions would decrease the district's reliance on portable classrooms.

The second phase of the proposed plan would call for a new elementary school, which would require voter approval by referendum. There is no timeline for a referendum yet.

Board Vice President John Kenwood voiced concern over where the project would go should a plan be rejected in a referendum, bringing to light a discussed long-term goal of full-day kindergarten in the district.

"I don't want to slow the process down, but I do struggle moving forward with the end recommendation," Kenwood said. "If a referendum does fail, and we have to go back to the four schools, and our goal in this recommendation is full-day kindergarten, which means I feel like I have to put another two classrooms in every building."

"We have not agreed to any of that," replied board member Erica Nelson. "You have created a domino effect and we're not there yet."

At present the district relies on 32 portable classrooms, 22 of those in its elementary schools alone. The proposed new classrooms would bring about 400 students total out of portables and into buildings, leaving four portable classrooms at Churchill and two at Lincoln.

Construction costs would be covered by a combination of district fund reserves and operating expenses. Alternative funding has also been under discussion.

"Every board the last 12 years has been looking at this problem (with the reliance on portables) and how are we going to solve it," board secretary Dean Elger said. "What we're saying now is rather than wait for a perfect plan to sell the community on, we'd like to do something tangible that we know we can do."

"I've received three calls from parents saying thank you for moving something forward," Nelson said. "This is the time."

Kenwood asked that in the spirit of the plan the board start talking about phase two. He also asked Superintendent Paul Gordon for his take on full-day kindergarten.

"I think it would be very difficult for the state to mandate it," Gordon said, "but when I look at achievement numbers, it you're a student of minority or poverty, we need to start giving you more opportunities to be successful. I believe in full-day kindergarten, I believe in preschool, I believe absolutely that 2 hours a day, for us to say that's full-day kindergarten, we're fooling ourselves."

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