$28 million Stevenson addition aims to 'reinvent' the classroom

With a groundbreaking tentatively set for late summer, the three-story addition planned for Lincolnshire's Stevenson High School may defy the usual expectations for a school building.

Instead of boxy classrooms filled with rows of chairs and tables, educators and architects talk about "teaching spaces" featuring randomly arranged group work stations.

There also will be "breakout spaces" - casual-looking seating areas in spacious, window-lined hallways that let students work on assignments outside classrooms.

But perhaps the most unusual element planned for the roughly 56,800-square-foot addition, expected to cost $28 million, is a pair of two-story, plant-covered walls designed to improve indoor air quality and provide learning opportunities for science classes.

To borrow a phrase, this is not going to be your father's high school.

"This project (is) less about putting butts in seats and more about delivering instruction in an effective, meaningful manner," said Sean Carney, Stevenson's assistant superintendent for business.

Time to expand

Occupying a 76-acre campus on Route 22 west of Milwaukee Avenue, Stevenson already is the largest high school building in Lake County at 870,000 square feet.

More than 4,100 teens attend Stevenson this year. Enrollment has risen for three years, however, and it's expected to reach 4,500 by 2025.

To accommodate the growth, administrators, board members and architects have spent months developing the expansion plan.

And since they're planning for the future of one of the nation's top-ranked public high schools, they're aiming for something exceptional.

"Not only did this addition need to provide space for our faculty to teach students in a manner consistent with the expectations of our community, but it needed to reinvent the classroom," Carney said.

The expansion will be part of Stevenson's East Building. If construction starts in early September as planned, it should be ready for the 2019-20 term, officials said.

According to the plans from architects with Wight & Company, each floor will have a different focus and design.

The ground level will feature five classrooms, a multipurpose area, breakout spaces and an educational courtyard for special education and fine arts programs.

The second floor will be dedicated to the world languages department. Nine classrooms are planned, as is more breakout space.

The third floor will be dedicated to science education. Five large labs and more breakout spaces are planned.

The plant-covered "living walls" will stretch between the second and third floors.

The ecological elements won't end there.

Plans also include a garden and greenhouse on the roof that will be used by science, art, foods and special education classes. The rooftop greenery will reduce energy costs by insulating the classrooms beneath, too.

That, combined with solar panels, could make the addition self-sufficient when it comes to energy production.

Wight & Company architect David Powell said environmental sustainability is part of his firm's DNA.

"We are especially thrilled that Stevenson's East Building expansion has uniquely combined both educational design and sustainable standards to an extraordinary level," Powell said.

Other schools

Stevenson isn't the only Lake County school to rethink classroom space for the 21st century.

Mundelein High School's new $24 million addition, which debuted last August, features airy classrooms and glass-walled meeting rooms similar to Stevenson's planned breakout spaces.

Superintendent Kevin Myers said it's been a hit with students and faculty.

"Our teachers have more options to engage a variety of learning styles, and the building environment promotes students and staff working together in nontraditional ways," Myers said.

Paying for it

All of the eye-catching, tradition-breaking elements planned for Stevenson's expansion have price tags attached, of course. And they're not cheap.

In fact, the project's budget has swollen about $3 million since January as details have been finalized.

Construction will be funded with loans and district savings. Officials have said they won't ask voters for a tax increase.

Officials also plan to apply for a $1 million grant from the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation.

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An architect's vision of the proposed three-story expansion to the East Building at Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire. Courtesy of Stevenson High School
The proposed three-story expansion to the East Building at Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire could contain breakout rooms that allow students to work in groups. A design for one such room is shown here. Courtesy of Stevenson High School
These architectural drawings show a proposed classroom, top, and a proposed green roof atop a planned three-story expansion at Stevenson High School. Courtesy of Stevenson High School
  Stevenson High School officials are finalizing plans for a three-story expansion to the East Building, shown here. Russell Lissau/, 2016
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