Wednesday, September 05, 2012
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CEL planning renovations to meet newer educational needs

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[September 05, 2012]  Chester-East Lincoln District 61 is looking to undergo renovations in the future. The first of three community meetings on the subject was on Aug. 30. The purpose of the three meetings is to get the public engaged in designing an environment where the children can learn.

The original building was built in 1950, with additions in 1957, 1967 and 1997. While not in need of more classrooms, the school needs to update the available space to meet the demands of a changing educational system.

"The board wants to know where you (the public) want them to go," said BLDD architect Todd Cyrulik.

Most of the meeting, which was code-named the "Discovery" meeting, consisted of a presentation by Cyrulik. Mark Graves from CTS, a St. Louis-based energy company that will help to ensure efficient energy use for the school, was also involved in the presentation. Around 30 people were present for the meeting.

"Tonight's meeting is going to focus on discovering the needs for this district," said Cyrulik as the presentation began.

The first item Cyrulik presented was finances. He covered three sources of money that the school will have access to:

  • The first source is the 1 percent sales tax that was recently passed. As of now, about $1.5 million is available because of that tax. A project using this money would have to be a capital project.

  • The second source is health and life safety funds. These funds can be used to ensure the health and welfare of students. The guidelines for these funds are a little stricter; the funds have to be used in a manner that will fix a potential problem that could endanger students if unchecked. As of now, about $1 million is available without affecting property taxes. In addition, up to $3 million can be levied.

  • The third source is grants. These grants would likely come from the state, the Federal Communications Commission or the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation.

In total, there could be between $2.5 million and $5.5 million available.

The second part of the presentation was a slideshow presented by Graves. The pictures were of various areas in the school as it is now, and they served to illustrate a number of issues. Some examples of these issues:

  • Traffic flow -- The road that circles the school runs through areas where children may be playing. This presents a problem, especially during recess.

  • School sign -- It's not really a problem, but it is not aesthetically pleasing, either.

  • Cafeteria -- This area is a little inconvenient to get to, as students have to walk through the gym, which may be in use, while teachers may walk through the boiler room, which can be frightening to younger students. The cafeteria is also too small for the growing number of students.

  • Heating and air conditioning -- There is only one boiler that heats most of the building, and air conditioning is very limited.

  • Showers -- The old shower and locker rooms have been converted to storage rooms due to lack of space over the years.

  • Electrical outlets -- There are not enough outlets for the increasing amount of electronics used to teach students.

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After the slideshow, Cyrulik commented that while normally Graves shows some horrendous problems with older schools, CEL does not have so many issues. Cyrulik added that the district has maintained the property really well.

While the property is in good shape, technology and society have changed education from what it once was, according to Cyrulik.

"Things are changing so quickly, it's hard to look down the road even two years," he said.

Until recently, teaching operated on the idea that there would be jobs for everyone. Even the students who didn't learn quite as easily could still work in a strong labor market. Now, with a completely different economy, education has had to change -- and by extension, facilities for education need to change as well.

"Teaching is no longer the sage on the stage; it is the guide by the side," said Cyrulik. Teaching has become helping students to filter through information, because children have access to so much of it compared with the past.

Fortunately, the district does have the space for reconstruction. As seen with the locker rooms that became storage, a room's purpose can change. The district can use such change for the better, and not just for storage.

An example of such rearrangement is a classroom in which everything is meant to be moved. Cyrulik provided a picture of such a classroom from another school. In this room, all of the furniture was mobile, and small cubicle walls could be folded and moved to create different arrangements for the students. This makes it easier for students to work in groups or to create their own workspace by themselves.

Another example is a courtyard. Despite all of the technology students have access to, they still need time outside. One school in Illinois provides small gardening areas for each class.

Finally, before the meeting came to a close, those present were asked to come up with what they thought were the most important improvements that could be made. One of the guests, second-grade teacher Jill Urish, said she was interested in the classroom furnishings that are more mobile than what is in place now.

"And somebody said something about outlets in the floors -- that would be great," said Urish.

The next meeting, which will be on Sept. 13 at 6:30, will provide an opportunity for those present to have a say in designing the layout of a potential school building in order to solve existing problems. The third meeting will be on Sept. 27, when decisions will be made as to what the public believes would work the best. Finally, on Oct. 16, a presentation will be made to the school board with the public recommendations.


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,

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