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Article updated: 11/13/2013 2:58 PM

Mundelein High officials considering $21 million expansion

By Russell Lissau

Mundelein High School officials are developing plans for a new classroom wing in what would be the campus' biggest expansion in nearly 20 years.

Plans call for a three-story addition that would contain 23 classrooms and cost $21 million. Work could begin in summer 2015 and finish a year later.

A long-awaited state grant worth up to $8.3 million will pay for a big chunk of the project, District 120 Business Manager Andy Searle told the Daily Herald. The school would borrow more than $13 million to cover the rest of the bill.

Officials don't plan to ask voters for a tax-rate increase or increase the budget to cover the loan, Searle said.

Most of the new rooms would be for science classes. Two will be labs for science, technology, engineering and mathematics, commonly known as STEM programs.

Some of the 53-year-old school's existing science labs are old and smaller than current standards, Superintendent Jody Ware said.

"We need science labs that are not antiquated but rather are 21st century classrooms with the square footage that meets the needs of the high school learner," Ware said.

If the project moves forward, the addition will bisect the courtyard near the center of the school, Searle said. Because the classrooms will be spread across three floors, much of the courtyard's green space will remain, he said.

"It will have a smaller footprint," Searle said.

Mundelein High last underwent a significant expansion in 1997. Classrooms and a library were among the new amenities included in that $12.5 million project, which was funded by a tax-rate increase voters approved in 1995.

The money the school could get from the state for this project dates back to a 2002 grant application. The cash never materialized, but the school board voted in October 2011 to maintain Mundelein's spot on the state funding list, just in case grant money would ever be released.

"We have no intention at this time to expand the building," Ware said then. "But, it is also difficult to pass up having 35 percent of a construction project paid for by the state of Illinois."

School officials learned this summer that the grant finally would be coming.

"It was a pleasant surprise," board member Al Hitzke said.

Now it's a matter of figuring out how to fund the rest of the project, Hitzke said.

The elements of the latest proposal weren't in the $10 million construction plan voters approved in April 2011. Those projects included roofing and bathroom repairs, upgrades to the electrical system and the installation of artificial turf on the football field.

A two-story addition was part of the discussion that led to the 2011 referendum, but that was put on hold to keep costs down.

More than 2,100 students are enrolled at Mundelein High this year. That's down from more than 2,200 in 2008 but still above the building's recommended maximum capacity of 2,075, Ware said.

The board's finance and facilities committee discussed the proposal Tuesday. The full school board is expected to discuss it Tuesday, Nov. 19. A vote to move forward with the plan could take place in January, Ware said.

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