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District 200 Board of Education: plan for Jefferson Early Childhood Center will depend on staff

The Wheaton Warrenville Community Unit School District Board of Education’s decision regarding plans for Jefferson Early Childhood Center will depend on which of the current two options is identified by Jefferson staff as being better able to serve the school’s needs.

The plans were presented by Patrick Brosnan of Legat Architects at the board’s Nov. 28 meeting.

Both options involve completely rebuilding the childhood center on land to the south of the current structure. The options are similar in size and cost, both occupying about 63,000 square feet and costing roughly $18.3 million.

In order to pay for the project, the district will have to pass a referendum in April asking for residents to approve a property tax increase.

Overall, a community survey conducted by the ECRA Group, Inc., and commissioned by District 200 officials showed majority support for renovations to the Jefferson Early Childhood Center, as long as the renovations focus on student needs and not administrative purposes.

While original concepts involved combining new district administrative offices with the Jefferson facility, those ideas are no longer included in the latest options the district is considering. These two options focus solely on rebuilding the Jefferson center to better serve student and program needs.

The center, located at 130 N. Hazelton Ave., mainly serves 3- and 4-year-olds with significant learning or developmental delays, but other students may also pay tuition to attend.

Rosemary Swanson, board president, said the district has the wrong facility to meet the special needs of those students. As it stands right now, the Jefferson center is not entirely handicap accessible.

Swanson said understanding how the facility affects instruction and learning is key to addressing what construction needs to be done.

“We have a very specific population of students that have those early learning needs that we need to design a facility to meet those needs,” Harris added.

One of the main focuses of the plans proposed by Legat Architects was the mobility of students, Brosnan said during his presentation to the board.

He said Jefferson staff brought to his attention the importance of taking into account how far students would have to travel between parts of the school or between the school building and parking lot, which could take up valuable learning time for students with limited mobility.

Both project options feature large classrooms that would include space for a variety of subjects, such as reading, math, fine motor skills and music. Each activity would occur in a different part of the classroom, helping to eliminate unnecessary travel within the school.

Therapies, such as physical or speech, could also be integrated into part of the classroom or be separated by movable walls, allowing teachers flexibility depending on the student being served.

The two plans mainly differ in the configuration of the early childhood center.

In one option, dubbed the “courtyard option,” classrooms encircle a central courtyard that includes a sensory garden and additional area for outdoor instruction.

In the “neighborhood option,” three “neighborhoods” of classrooms stem from a main activity zone, with outdoor areas between each neighborhood.

Both include an additional outdoor playground area south of the center that will be available for residents in the area to use.

The board will meet again Dec. 12 to further discuss the options and then vote Jan. 9. Prior to the Dec. 12 meeting, the board will consult with Jefferson staff members regarding which plan is better suited to the needs of their students.

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