Thirteen years in the making, a $23.7 million expansion project has begun at Mundelein High School.
Crews on Wednesday used heavy machinery to dig up grass and soil in the courtyard where the addition will be built. It's the start of a project that will result in the creation of a three-story wing dedicated to science, technology, engineering and math education.
"It's really exciting," Superintendent Kevin Myers said. "We've been building up to this point. To finally see the ground shifting around ... it's become a reality."
The large windows of Myers' spacious office overlook the construction zone.
The physical labor actually began earlier in the week when workers removed about 20 trees that stood in the way of the future building.
Those trees will be replaced and then some, Myers said. Roughly 60 trees will be planted across the 38-acre campus at Hawley Street and Midlothian Road once the addition is complete, he said.
Right now, the work isn't too disruptive for students. A lot of it is being done around testing schedules and on Saturdays, Myers said.
The labor will kick into high gear after students finish the term May 26.
The addition will feature 25 classrooms, plus science labs, an area for experiments, offices and other amenities.
Since it's a building dedicated to the sciences, the facade will feature a design deliberately reminiscent of the periodic table of elements.
"It's not going to look pretty for a while, but the end result in August 2016 -- the community's going to be very proud," Myers said. "And our students and staff are going to have a state-of-the-art learning environment."
Crews are tearing up the courtyard now to gain access to buried utility lines. But they're also looking for time capsules that may be in the space, school spokesman Ron Girard said. No one is sure where the boxes are buried, he added.
An $8.3 million state grant will cover about 35 percent of the construction project's cost. The state board of education and the state's capital development board are behind the money, which will be delivered quarterly as work is done.
School officials applied for the grant in 2002. After years of silence, the cash was approved in 2013, surprising board members and administrators.
The rest of the cash will come from a loan.
Officials will use some of the district's savings to settle that debt. A tax-rate increase will not be necessary.
A public groundbreaking ceremony is planned for 5:30 p.m. May 12.
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.