CEL potential building plan moves to school board

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[September 30, 2012]  The third and final in a series of resident engagement meetings took place on Thursday at Chester-East Lincoln. The meetings were arranged in order to inform and get community participation in plans to renovate the school building and grounds.

Once again, Todd Cyrulik was present as the representative from BLDD, the architectural company that will be working with District 61 on this series of projects.

The meeting, code-named the "Options Forum," began with a recap of the previous meetings. Cyrulik reiterated that the goal of these meetings is engage the public in deciding what changes will be made to Chester-East in order to better educate future students.

Teaching once operated on the idea that jobs would be available for every type of learner. Even those students who had trouble understanding certain subjects could still find work in a strong labor market. Now, the economy is completely different, and education will have to change. By extension, schools have to change to accommodate new styles of learning.

At the first meeting, on Aug. 30, people present were shown images and told of some problem areas that exist within the school now. These problems include outdated electrical and heating systems, a cafeteria that is too small, and a courtyard that is currently not used for anything.

The second meeting, Sept. 13, included a tour of the building in order to show people the school as it is now, and to provide a better understanding of the layout. With this information, guests were able to provide ideas for improvements that could be made.

After the recap, Cyrulik presented eight different plans: six of which were compiled at the last meeting, one created by school administrators after the second meeting, and a final plan drafted by BLDD.

The options presented had two things in common:

  • Almost all of the plans included major changes to the cafeteria. Most people agree that the cafeteria as it is now is too small and in a poor location. It was suggested in most of the plans that the cafeteria be moved to the center of building in what was referred to as a common area.

  • Other suggestions for such a common area included a relocation of the media center and library, or possibly the art and music rooms.

In either case, people agreed that students need a place in the school where they can gather more easily if they need to, such as for meals or working on school work together.

The ability to work together is becoming more vital in education, and schools are presenting more opportunities for group work. Furthermore, with the role of teachers changing from less of an instructor to more of a guide, independent learning could be encouraged if the students have access to a more modern media center.

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However, the plans presented do not come without faults. Superintendent Jennifer Hamm expressed concern over the cost of these endeavors.

"We are working with a constrained budget," said Hamm.

Each of the plans came with an estimate for costs. The cheapest plan would cost $3.7 million, and the most expensive would cost $5.1 million.

"What those prices donít include is a base cost for other work," said Hamm. The other work would include a repaving of the parking areas around the school, and utility-based projects, such as improvements to climate control and electrical systems. Those projects would cost somewhere between $350,000 and $500,000.

Hamm also commented on how the taxpayers might react to such high prices. With the economy as tough as it is right now, the community may not like the idea of having to raise property taxes to pay for the renovations.

There were also disagreements on which aspects of the plans were a high priority, such as:

  • Not everyone believes that the music room needs to move at all. The reasoning is that the students donít have music every day, so it would be a lot of effort for little reward.

  • While the cafeteria does need to be improved, there is still the question of what to do with the kitchen. If the cafeteria is moved, the kitchen would either have to move with it for outside access, or remain where it is, making deliveries more difficult.

There were also ideas that did not make it into any of the plans. Off-site storage for equipment was a suggestion, which would free up storage space within the school. Some teachers would like to see the teachersí lounge renovated, as the current one is very small.

After the discussions on these issues, a vote was taken on the plans that were presented. The winning plan was the one drafted by the school administrators.

A group of people will be selected from parents and teachers who were present at the meetings to present the ideas chosen to the board of education. The board will then contemplate the suggestions brought forward and return with comments and concerns.

BLDD Architects is a company that primarily designs school buildings. The company started in Bloomington in 1929. There are three other Illinois offices -- in Decatur, Chicago and Champaign -- and one office in Davenport, Iowa.


For more information, visit CEL's new website, http://www.cel61.com/.


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