$11.8 million kindergarten center moving ahead in District 73
Despite a sound defeat in April of a request to borrow up to $42 million to expand and renovate all six schools, Vernon Hills-based Hawthorn Elementary District 73 is ready to pursue another project to ease crowding.
A recently approved an agreement with the Vernon Hills Park District set the table for work on an $11.8 million kindergarten center to begin in earnest.
"I'm putting together a design team," Superintendent Nick Brown said. "Then, we'll start meeting to discuss what our needs are and how to make that fit in the space available."
The 36,000-square-foot center is planned for 18 classrooms to be built onto the park district's Sullivan Center, just south of the Aspen Drive Library and across the street from District 73's south campus.
Consolidating kindergarten classes -- except for the three at the School of Dual Language -- is part of a master facilities plan. However, it wasn't among projects pitched in the referendum and will be funded separately with reserves.
District 73 enrollment has been climbing and that's expected to continue. With schools at capacity, the district turned to voters for funds to address the situation but fell short.
Building a kindergarten center would free space at schools but provide only short-term relief, the district has maintained.
"Our buildings are full. We're still experiencing that student enrollment issue," Brown said.
In any case, detailed planning will get underway. Construction is expected to begin next spring, but whether the building will be ready for the 2018-19 school year is unknown.
Under the agreement, District 73 will pay for construction of the kindergarten center but lease the building from the park district at a nominal fee for 20 years, with an option to buy it for $100 after that.
The parties will share resources, with the park district having access to meeting rooms and other space at night and District 73 able to use the gym during the day.
"It saves taxpayers a lot of money," said park board President David Doerhoefer. "They're in desperate need of space and we're in a position to help them."
Meanwhile, District 73 is readying for next year.
"We started our enrollment about six weeks earlier for new students," Brown said. "We're monitoring that now."
In 2017-18, all middle school students will have district-issued Chromebooks, making computer lab space available as needed.
"We're going to be tight but we'll be able to make it work," according to Brown. "It's the second year we're really going to be watching very closely."
Will the district return to voters for funds to address space needs? If so, would the request be retooled? The board that approved the original referendum question has three new members.
"I think the June 12 board meeting we'll start the conversation," Brown said. "What's next? What do we do?"