Lombard Dist. 44 converting former school into early childhood center

 
 
Updated 4/14/2017 8:16 AM
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  • Occupational therapist Debbie Wallenberg, left, and autism teacher Jennifer Suggs share a desk and cramped quarters in Lombard Elementary District 44's Early Childhood Center at Butterfield School. The district is planning to move the center into a newly renovated building later this year.

      Occupational therapist Debbie Wallenberg, left, and autism teacher Jennifer Suggs share a desk and cramped quarters in Lombard Elementary District 44's Early Childhood Center at Butterfield School. The district is planning to move the center into a newly renovated building later this year. Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

  • Hunter Downs, 5, is one of roughly 130 students who attend early childhood classes in Lombard Elementary District 44. Officials hope to be able to serve twice as many youngsters when they move their Early Childhood Center into a renovated building later this year.

      Hunter Downs, 5, is one of roughly 130 students who attend early childhood classes in Lombard Elementary District 44. Officials hope to be able to serve twice as many youngsters when they move their Early Childhood Center into a renovated building later this year. Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

  • Cathy Angelos, special education facilitator at the Early Childhood Center in Lombard Elementary District 44, will become principal when the classes move into the former Highland Hills School later this year.

      Cathy Angelos, special education facilitator at the Early Childhood Center in Lombard Elementary District 44, will become principal when the classes move into the former Highland Hills School later this year. Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

  • District 44's Early Childhood Center is "bursting at the seams," in its current space in just four classrooms at Butterfield School, officials say.

      District 44's Early Childhood Center is "bursting at the seams," in its current space in just four classrooms at Butterfield School, officials say. Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

An old school building is in line to become a new Early Childhood Center later this year in Lombard Elementary District 44.

Officials are planning extensive renovations to the former Highland Hills School at 1519 Grace St., which recently was rented to the School Association for Special Education, or SASED, but hasn't housed children for more than 30 years.

Officials say they're aiming to have the project done by late December to serve students ages 3 to 5 who now attend early childhood classes at Butterfield Elementary School, where a lack of space limits the number of youngsters who can participate in the program.

Ted Stec, assistant superintendent for finance, says the cost of the project won't be known until bids are opened later this month, but he's expecting it to come in between $6 million and $9 million.

Stec said the district hasn't done any major work at Highland Hills for nearly three decades and plans call for a complete interior renovation of its 34,000 square feet, along with improvements to the building's exterior and parking lot.

The district will use money from three sources for the project: cash reserves, grants and a non-referendum bond issue that will take advantage of low interest rates and not require a tax increase.

"It's a very, very big project," Stec said. "It's huge."

Cathy Angelos, who has served as the district's early childhood facilitator for the past nine years and will become principal of the still unnamed new school, says the program has won numerous awards over the years.

Most recently it captured the Gold Circle of Quality award from ExceleRate Illinois, a statewide organization that looks at learning environment and teaching quality, administrative standards, and training and education.

It then was asked to apply for the Award of Excellence for Inclusion of students with special needs and was one of just 14 programs in the state to win that honor, too.

District 44 is serving 130 students ages 3 to 5 in four classrooms at Butterfield School, Angelos said, "but we're bursting at the seams."

Roughly 80 of the students are considered at-risk, she said, and the other 50 have special needs.

Stec said the remodeled Highland Hills will be able to handle twice as many kids, and "there's definitely a need."

"I know we're missing students," Angelos said. "Some people don't really know that these services are available."

Officials say they've been planning the new facility for more than a year and visited numerous other sites, including some in Addison, Elmhurst and Carol Stream, to find out what works and what doesn't.

Stec said those visits provided insight into some factors that easily can be overlooked when planning a building for young learners -- from the height and location of bathroom sinks to the best types of floors.

"We've put a lot of time and resources into designing the new space," he said.

Angelos said she's excited about the renovations because, in addition to much-needed classroom space, they'll provide a gym, an all-purpose room and more space to meet with parents and families.

If all goes according to plan, the district will open bids for the project on April 24 and then take about a month to award contracts. Stec said he expects construction crews to "hit the ground running" in late June or early July under the direction of ARCON Associates, the Lombard-based architectural firm that's also serving as project manager.

As assistant superintendent for finance, Stec says his job is to hold down costs.

"But when you hear principals and teachers talk about how it (a building) affects kids, you know it really makes a difference," he said.

Angelos knows that, too, as she gears up for the move along with the center's five teachers, three speech pathologists, two occupational therapists, a physical therapist and a psychologist.

"I am so thrilled," she said. "This has been a dream of mine."

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