WEST CHICAGO – For the first time in the newly renamed Leman Middle School of West Chicago’s history, sixth-graders are part of its student body.
After community members supported a $39 million referendum to fund the expansion and renovation of the middle school in November 2010, about 145,840 square feet were added to the school, allowing for a true middle school model that includes sixth through eighth grades.
The exodus of sixth-graders from District 33’s elementary schools helped not only to address overcrowding in those buildings but to provide better educational opportunities for sixth-grade students, who now have access to middle school programs, Superintendent Kathy Wolfe said.
“Academically, it provides them opportunities that being in a separate classroom, we aren’t able to deliver that type of instruction in the elementary buildings,” Wolfe said. “It makes it a true middle school.”
The expansion more than doubled the previous facility, providing new administrative offices, classrooms, hallways, lockers, locker room and meeting spaces, as well as a library and a gym. The added area also includes a “cafetorium,” a combination cafeteria-auditorium.
The last time the middle school saw improvements was in 1994, said Gina Steinbrecher, the district’s community relations specialist. A previous referendum measure requesting funds for a similar $49 million project failed in April 2009.
Renovations in the existing building mainly consisted of converting spaces that were replaced in the new section. These included turning the old library into classrooms and hallway space and the cafeteria into a band and orchestra room. Other improvements across the building were smaller, such as replacing blinds or ceiling tiles.
As part of the project, some temperature and ventilation work and asbestos abatement were performed in the existing facility, Wolfe said.
Once final numbers are calculated, the project cost is expected to come in below budget, she said.
With the expansion, the population of the school rose from about 800 students to more than 1,300, according to school records, 445 of whom are sixth-graders.
The added and improved spaces have allowed the school to offer additional “exploratory” classes, which provide unique learning opportunities in communications, technology and fine arts, Wolfe said.
“This was something that we were wanting to do to provide additional opportunities in language, world cultures [and] technology,” she said.
With the facility changes came a new name for Leman Middle School, which was previously called West Chicago Middle School. The name was changed to honor retired Superintendent Ed Leman.
Although the school already goes by its new name, a formal dedication will be Sept. 26.
The start of the school year marked a special occurrence for the middle school, since it actually welcomed two new classes: not only the sixth-graders, but the seventh-graders, both of which had previously attended the district’s elementary schools.
So far, the transition has gone smoothly.
“The opening was phenomenal,” Steinbrecher said. “There was staff everywhere, stationed throughout the building and outside, welcoming the students in, helping them find their rooms and just really helping the kids transition.”