$13.5 million kindergarten center concludes years of planning
After the introduction Monday of "Soaring Eagles" as the school song for a new kindergarten center in Vernon Hills, Principal Jill Martin had a hopeful message for those gathered outside.
"The next time you hear that song, 350 students will be singing it," Martin told about three dozen teachers, administrators and community officials attending the ceremonial opening of the $13.5 million Hawthorn School for Young Learners.
When that will be is unknown because of the coronavirus. Like students in six other Hawthorn Elementary District 73 schools, kindergartners will be learning remotely when classes start Aug. 31.
Teachers reported Monday to the two-story school at 637 N. Aspen Drive and began assembling at-home learning bags. Martin said 265 students are enrolled but an influx is expected when students return.
For the district's youngest students, that will be a 16-classroom, 41,000-square-foot building packed with innovative features designed for 5-year-olds.
Among the features are interconnected classrooms with partitions, furniture and storage that can be moved to transform spaces as activities change. Also included are reading and math centers, collaborative areas, a makers space for every four rooms, a sensory room and art studio, 70-inch iPads in each makers space called "Mondo" boards, and whiteboards on the surface of every storage unit.
"This building is built for kids to explore, get messy and discover," Martin explained to a visitor.
Another element is a fully enclosed nature-themed playground with soft artificial turf between the school and park district's Sullivan Community Center, which are connected by a hallway.
"We're very, very proud of it. I can't wait to get kids in here," Martin said. "This whole building was made for flexibility and collaboration," she added.
In November 2018, voters approved a $48.7 million building program. Topping the list was providing space and flexibility at other district schools by consolidating kindergarten classes in a new building.
"A lot of this will address the needs that were already there," school board President Robin Cleek said while surveying the new center. "We just needed to free up space in every building even if we didn't get another student."
Besides extensive planning to create interactive spaces, the project involved the cooperation of the village, Vernon Hills Park District and Cook Memorial Public Library District.
Sparked by village land donations, construction of underground stormwater detention area and roadwork to accommodate the new building, the area has grown to encompass a campus of four schools, the Sullivan center and adjoining aquatic center and the Aspen Drive library branch.
Officials noted substantial savings as a result of collaborative efforts.
"This is what can happen when multiple government entities work together," said Thom Koch, longtime village trustee and District 73 history teacher.
Hawthorn School for Young Learners is the first of several projects in the district's master plan.
An ongoing $9.4 million project to renovate and expand Middle School North is scheduled to open by fall 2021. The work includes adding several classrooms, a full gym/music room.
Also, design is underway for plans at Elementary South to include a new full-size gym, orchestra, choral and art rooms.