Dist. 200 looks at options for early childhood center

 
 
Posted4/28/2016 5:43 AM
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  • The Wheaton Warrenville Unit District 200 board of education began a discussion Wednesday about options to update Jefferson Early Childhood Center, which hasn't received any significant improvements since it opened in the 1950s.

      The Wheaton Warrenville Unit District 200 board of education began a discussion Wednesday about options to update Jefferson Early Childhood Center, which hasn't received any significant improvements since it opened in the 1950s. Mark Black | Staff Photographer

  • A closet has been turned into a quiet work room for students at Jefferson Early Childhood Center.

      A closet has been turned into a quiet work room for students at Jefferson Early Childhood Center. Mark Black | Staff Photographer

  • The lack of space at Jefferson Early Childhood Center has resulted in hallways being lined with storage items and food service equipment.

      The lack of space at Jefferson Early Childhood Center has resulted in hallways being lined with storage items and food service equipment. Mark Black | Staff Photographer

  • Therapists at Jefferson Early Childhood Center work one-on-one with students in makeshift areas of classrooms, while the noise and activity of the rest of the class continues just a few feet away.

      Therapists at Jefferson Early Childhood Center work one-on-one with students in makeshift areas of classrooms, while the noise and activity of the rest of the class continues just a few feet away. Mark Black | Staff Photographer

Jefferson Early Childhood Center was the first order of business Wednesday as the Wheaton Warrenville Unit District 200 board of education dove into a more than 400-page master facilities plan it was given earlier this month.

Many needs exist in the building at 130 N. Hazelton Ave., which hasn't undergone any significant renovations since it opened in the 1950s. It houses programs for students ages 3 to 5, about two-thirds of whom have special needs.

The district is required by law to provide early education to the special needs students. The remaining students do not have special needs and pay tuition.

In fall 2013, voters rejected a proposed tax increase to finance the construction of a new early childhood center. But that option is back on the table, along with several other options, including a renovation/addition or moving the facility to a new site.

The master facilities plan showed the current building lacks a secure entry, adequately sized classrooms, offices and support spaces and parking, storage and accessibility.

All the options laid out in the plan are around the same cost. A renovation/addition would cost about $16 million, while a new building would likely be closer to $18 million.

Representatives from Perkins+Will, the architectural firm hired to create the plan, also took a look at several other sites, including an empty 40,000 square foot industrial space on Youghal Road in Warrenville and a portion of the Wheaton Park District Community Center that would require a second-floor addition.

"It just seems confusing, and I'm not crazy about that option," board member Joann Coghill said of the park district option, to the agreement of several other board members who also brought up concerns about parking and safety.

The Youghal Road location also didn't appeal to board members because of its location and parking. President Jim Vroman suggested eliminating the community center and Youghal Road options and focusing on either renovating or building new.

"It is a lot of money, but I think it's close enough for us to consider both options and consider moving forward with one of those two options," he said.

But board member Jim Gambaiani said he wasn't ready to get rid of the two off-site options.

"We need to do our due diligence," he said. "I think all options should continue to be considered. I think that concept still has to be in play as we investigate solutions."

Vroman agreed the off-site location option shouldn't be eliminated, but he wasn't "enamored" with the Youghal and community center.

In addition, board member Jim Mathieson raised concerns about looking at the bigger picture.

"We got Franklin, we got Edison, we got many other schools in this district in really bad shape," he said. "I'm trying to get to the point where we could produce a facility that is the best we can do with dollars available."

Superintendent Jeff Schuler said he would gather more information about the items on which the board wanted clarification, including the cost of recent construction or renovations to comparable facilities in the area; more rationale for what size early childhood classrooms and buildings should be; information on other available off-site locations; and details on how a new building would be phased in without disrupting students.

The board will begin discussing the district's remaining facility needs at an all-day meeting that begins at 8:30 a.m. Saturday at Wheaton North High School.

"I tried to develop an agenda that has flexibility on where the conversation needs to go but has some structure to move us from where we are to where we want to go," Schuler said.

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