Just as it has since 1910, the school building at Grand Avenue and Route 83 in Lake Villa teemed with students and teachers Tuesday.
Only a few months ago, it seemed Joseph J. Pleviak Elementary School was headed toward extinction. Citing declining enrollment, Lake Villa Elementary District 41 officials decided to close Pleviak after the 2013-14 school year.
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But, Pleviak opened Tuesday as the new home for about 490 children who attended their first day of kindergarten at the 104-year-old structure. It also was the first school day for Pleviak as part of Round Lake Area Unit District 116, which is leasing the building from District 41.
Enthusiasm abounded for the fresh start, with employees wearing red "Pleviak Panther Cubs" T-shirts and Principal Nick Heckel greeting the students and their parents.
District 116 Superintendent Constance Collins also got in on the excitement.
"This is a fun place to be," Collins said as students filed past her into a gymnasium for an assembly to begin the day. "You'll have a great time."
District 116 officials say children will have more educational opportunities at Pleviak. Kindergartners had been assigned to the district's early education center or Village Elementary School, both in Round Lake.
Unlike those space-crunched facilities, Pleviak will allow District 116 to provide the kindergartners with art, music, a computer room, physical education, a library and a reading and writing laboratory, officials said.
Heckel said while there have been some skeptics about the viability of Pleviak, visitors to the school generally leave impressed.
"I think the big fear for a lot of people was the unknown," Heckel said during a brief break. "They heard rumors about the building, that it's a really, really old building, it's in bad shape and it's got mold and all these other issues. And it didn't."
Some parents voiced concern at a June school board meeting about potential transportation difficulties in getting their students from the Round Lake-based District 116 to Lake Villa.
However, parent Janet Valadez said it took her just 15 minutes to drive from Round Lake to Pleviak on Tuesday morning. She said her 5-year-old son, Israel, took the bus to school without problem.
District 116 will rent Pleviak for $175,000 in 2014-15, topping out at $209,141 after gradual increases over 10 years. Illinois law allows districts to go beyond their boundaries to lease property for school purposes.
Built in 1910, Pleviak originally was called Lake Villa School and it most recently served kindergarten through sixth grade for District 41. Workers over the summer installed signs and other touches so it now reflects being part of District 116.
Longtime District 116 kindergarten teacher Lana Ryba said the extra room at Pleviak is particularly important now that kindergarten has become a full-day program.
"Our motto is 'Good to great,' and that's what we're striving for," Ryba said.