Addition at Hadley Junior High? District 41 seeks input

When they step into new classrooms at two Glen Ellyn schools today, returning students will immediately notice three things: Gone are the portable units, the walks to and from the main building, and the disruptions to learning.

"To have all of our students under one roof is phenomenal," Forest Glen Elementary Principal Mary Hornacek said. "It's been well over a decade we have not been under one roof."

Portable classrooms were supposed to be a temporary fix to space constraints in Glen Ellyn School District 41. The units slowly began popping up on campuses in 2001. By the end of the 2014 school year, there were more than 30 portable classrooms across the district, raising concerns about security and cutting classes short to shuffle students to restrooms and other areas in the main buildings.

Over two summers, the district has spent about $15 million to remove the portables and replace them with brick-and-mortar additions at the four elementary schools. Even as those students and teachers enjoy the bright, airy spaces when school starts today, a task force is wrestling with what to do with the 10 portable classrooms at Hadley Junior High, some of the last in the district. Officials say the district doesn't have enough funds to expand the school on Hawthorne Boulevard.

The group of parents, taxpayers and village leaders - all 36 are volunteers meeting twice a month - also are examining where to house and how to fund a possible full-day kindergarten. The committee is expected to deliver a report, but not necessarily a recommendation, in January.

So far, the district has proposed three options:

• Building a new school, for kindergarten through fifth grade, at the former Spalding School, where the district owns almost five acres at First Street between Forest Avenue and Park Boulevard. The cost could range from $26.9 million to $29.2 million, based on estimates presented to the school board last January

• Building an early learning center at Spalding, estimated to cost anywhere from $21.7 million to $23.6 million

• Adding on to existing schools, estimated to cost anywhere from $14.9 million to $16.5 million

Any of those projects would require voter approval.

Given the size of the Spalding lot, board President Erica Nelson said an early learning center, where preschool and kindergarten students would be housed together, is the right fit.

"A more manageable-sized building would be, I think, more community-friendly, neighborhood-friendly," Nelson said.

Stephanie Clark, one of two new school board members who took their seats in May, has suggested leasing space from the Glen Ellyn Park District to hold the district's preschool programs. Doing so, Clark said, would free space in elementary schools to make way for full-day kindergarten. The school board, however, did not formally ask the task force to study such a deal with the park district.

Nelson wouldn't comment on that idea, saying she wanted the task force to look broadly at the district's schools.

"It was not a direct charge from the board," she said. "It is a community task force, as they are studying the facilities, the history of facilities in the district."

Clark and her running mate, Kurt Buchholz, are skeptical that the district needs a new, K-5 school. Enrollment has held steady over the past decade, at about 3,500 to 3,600 students, officials say.

As for expanding Hadley, adding new, permanent classrooms and a "cafetorium" (more cafeteria space with a performance stage) would cost an estimated $10.5 million to $12.2 million.

Clark said one option for Hadley may be extending existing debt, meaning taxes wouldn't increase, but they wouldn't decrease either.

"In my mind, that's the most realistic way to go about it," Clark said.

Last summer, additions were built and portables were cleared away from Abraham Lincoln and Ben Franklin elementary schools. This summer, that work was done at Forest Glen and Churchill, where four portable classrooms are left. The final new Churchill classrooms will be done early next summer, said Dave Scarmardo, director of building and grounds.

At Forest Glen, fourth- and fifth-graders will use the classrooms for STEAM, or science, technology, engineering, art and math. New furniture on wheels and a movable wall allow educators to teach together or students to work in groups, said Laurie Berenschot, a Level 3 STEAM teacher.

"We're able to really design the space for the needs of the day or the moment," she said.

  Four new classrooms at Forest Glen Elementary were built this summer as part of a $15 million project to remove portable classrooms in elementary schools. District 41 spokeswoman Erika Krehbiel said some of the highlights in the rooms are movable walls to allow educators to co-teach. Scott Sanders/
  Additions were built at Forest Glen and Ben Franklin elementary schools in Glen Ellyn School District 41 this summer to replace portable classrooms. Scott Sanders/
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