Vernon Hills High a hard-hat zone this year
The 2019-20 school year has been a noisy one so far at Vernon Hills High School.
The sounds of sawing, jackhammering and other types of construction work have been omnipresent, thanks to expansion projects in three parts of the school.
A three-story classroom addition is going up on the building's east side. On the west side, a gymnasium and a dance studio are under construction. And near the middle of the building, a cafeteria expansion is underway.
Construction-related distractions, students say, are common.
"I hear it in my math class," freshman Carly De Leon said. "The room shakes."
But officials say the extra academic, athletic and dining spaces that are being built are very necessary. About 1,500 students attend the school this year, an all-time high; the figure is expected to grow to 1,600 in the 2020-21 term.
"We've got kids that we know are coming next year, and we definitely want to be ready for them," said Dan Stanley, Libertyville-Vernon Hills Area High School District 128's assistant superintendent for business.
Both District 128 schools are under construction this year. At Libertyville High, crews are converting a former swimming pool into multipurpose gym space and a dance studio. That project is expected to cost about $5 million.
The work at Vernon Hills High is far more significant and carries a much larger price tag -- about $26.6 million.
All the work is being funded from district savings, and officials insist property taxes won't increase because of the projects.
More than 42,000 square feet of space are being added to Vernon Hills High's building, a nearly 13% increase from its current 334,953-square-foot footprint.
The classroom expansion will contain eight new rooms and a lab for science, technology, engineering and math education.
The lab will stand out visually. Located near the school's northeast corner, it will have glass exterior walls and feature a curved upper section reminiscent of the curved facade at the front of the school.
"It's really meant to be a focal point for this side of the building," Stanley said.
Elsewhere, the new gymnasium will give the school two such facilities and thus create more space for physical education classes.
Right now, some students have to exercise in hallways or share space with other groups, Stanley said. Adding a gym also should alleviate the need for teams to practice early in the morning or at night because of limited facility availability.
As for the cafeteria, both the seating and serving areas are doubling so more students can eat simultaneously, Stanley said.
With more space, the school will shift to longer, 45-minute lunch periods for the first time in its 20-year history. Students had been forced to get food and eat in about 22 minutes.
"Sometimes the line is so long," freshman Rayza Carnalla said. "You get less time to eat and talk with friends."
The classroom addition and cafeteria expansion are set to be completed ahead of the 2020-21 school year. The gym should be done sometime in fall 2020, Stanley said.
The gym fell behind schedule after crews discovered the locations of underground water drain pipes conflicted with the foundation designs. Workers laying the foundation have to take extra care not to damage those pipes, Stanley said.
Libertyville High's renovation should be completed in spring 2020, as scheduled.