Wheaton District 200 considers 7 scenarios for Jefferson building

As Wheaton Warrenville Unit District 200 officials consider what to do with the Jefferson Early Childhood Center, one thing is clear: finding consensus could prove difficult.

That's because officials have floated seven scenarios, and one school board member says the district should evaluate two more.

A "base option" would only fix Jefferson's aging infrastructure at an estimated cost of $5.3 million. But district officials are questioning that kind of investment in the 1950s-era building along Manchester Road that also has space constraints and other long-standing issues.

Other alternatives could take shape next month when the school board's facilities committee expects to review "high-level" concepts by Legat Architects and estimated costs.

The district is going back to the drawing board now that voters have twice rejected a bid to build a new Jefferson, first in 2013 and again last April as part of a substantially larger $154.5 million plan for construction projects at all but one of the district's schools.

Officials are now fine-tuning a list of options that includes:

• Renovating the existing Jefferson and building a classroom addition.

• Renovating Jefferson and building a larger addition to house the majority of "student-specific programs and classrooms."

• Building an addition to nearby Monroe Middle School. The district would have to reach an agreement with the Wheaton Park District to construct the wing on part of Graf Park.

• Building an early childhood addition at either Sandburg or Whittier elementary schools. Under this scenario, the district could move to sell the Jefferson property.

• Building an addition at Sandburg for a "north campus" for early learning students and building an addition at Whittier for a "south campus." This plan would also allow the district to sell the Jefferson site.

• Repairing and replacing infrastructure at Jefferson and leaving the rest of the building as is.

• Converting an elementary school into an early learning center. This doesn't appear to be a viable plan because of enrollment projections updated recently by the district's demographer.

Last week, school board member Jim Gambaiani said the district also should consider downsizing the footprint of a new building. And he wants to take another "hard look" at repurposing space within Hubble Middle School to make way for Jefferson preschoolers - without adding on to the district's newest building. In the 2016-17 school year, Hubble enrolled 740 students.

"I know it's going to be thinking outside of the box," Gambaiani said. "It's going to be painful, and it's very unusual from an education standpoint with a middle school trying to help accommodate elementary needs, so to speak."

If voters in April had approved the request, the district would have borrowed $132.5 million and increased property taxes to pay off the debt in 19 years. The previous board also had pledged to set aside $7.5 million from existing reserves and another $14.5 million from future budgets to fund the rest of the ill-fated plan.

The district would have set aside $16.6 million to demolish the old Jefferson and construct a roughly 45,000-square-foot building with 16 classrooms.

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