More and renovated space awaits students at Hawthorn Middle School North in Vernon Hills

Besides familiar coronavirus mitigation measures, students returning Monday to Hawthorn Middle School North in Vernon Hills will see substantial building upgrades.

Ten classrooms in two single-story additions, two updated STEM labs, a second gym and a band/orchestra area are among new features added during a $9.4 million renovation and expansion of the school at 201 Hawthorn Parkway.

"This is one of the older buildings in the district and it's nice not having gym (class) in the lunchroom," said Principal Robert Collins. "The teachers are really excited."

New and renovated areas will allow the district to better educate students for a future they are likely to face, officials said, by providing room to work through problems collaboratively.

The Middle School North project began before schools closed in March 2020 and was completed a few months ahead of schedule.

It's part of an ongoing $48.7 million district initiative, approved by voters in November 2018, to build a kindergarten center and expand or renovate seven buildings.

"So far, everything has been moving forward as planned and we've stayed on budget," school board President Robin Cleek said.

  An expansion/renovation at Hawthorn Elementary South in Vernon Hills continues. This third project in a master facilities plan for Hawthorn Elementary District 73 will make space for a gym, art and music rooms, outdoor learning courtyard and other features. Mick Zawislak/

A 14-classroom kindergarten building at 637 N. Aspen Drive, known as the Hawthorn School for Young Learners, was the first completed project. It was ready in summer 2020 but didn't open until Feb. 1, when hybrid learning began.

Because the School for Young Learners freed space in elementary schools, Middle School North was chosen as the second project.

The third is underway at Elementary South, 430 N. Aspen Drive. Work includes two additions for art, choral music and band/orchestra rooms; a gym; outdoor learning courtyard; and a secure main visitor entrance.

About 623 sixth- through eighth-graders are enrolled at Middle School North.

"A lot of anxious kids, but they're excited," said Jenna Stern, assistant principal. "I've given a lot of tours."

Cleek said the district this year will spend more time than is typical on social-emotional learning.

"After the last 17 (to) 18 months, many students need help reintegrating into social situations and coping with many of the concerns the pandemic heaped upon everyone," she said.

Hawthorn 73, like other districts, is fully reopening for in-person learning using layered mitigation measures, such as social distancing, improved ventilation and increased hand washing.

But some measures have changed. This year, parents will be certifying they're kids are not displaying COVID-19 symptoms by sending them to school rather than completing an online form.

Masks won't be needed outside, but students will have to social distance. Materials again can be shared in classrooms and students can use lockers.

Remote learning will be temporarily available for students who test positive for the virus or need to quarantine as a close contact. But there will not be a regular, full-time remote option.

And when identified as a close classroom contact, "Test to Stay" can be used to keep the student in school. With that option, students can avoid quarantine by remaining symptom-free and testing negative on days one, three, five and seven after exposure.

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