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D-41 hopes to decrease portable use with $11M classroom project

GLEN ELLYN – In order to decrease its reliance on portable space, Glen Ellyn School District 41 may build new classrooms at each of its four elementary school buildings for an estimated construction cost of $11 to $15 million.

The District currently uses 32 portable classrooms, 22 of which are located at the elementary schools.

This proposed plan is a reworking of a project to construct "innovation labs" at the elementary buildings, which was changed after district administrators identified decreasing the use of portables as a greater priority. The labs were estimated to cost between $8 and $10 million to build.

"We decided to shift our thinking in terms of reducing our reliance," said Bob Ciserella, D-41 assistant superintendent of finance, facilities and operations.

At the District 41 Board of Education meeting Sept. 23, board members discussed the classroom project, which would be phase one of a three-phase plan that could include building a new elementary school and an addition at Hadley Junior High School, launching full-day kindergarten and creating labs at all of the district schools.

As part of the classroom project, four rooms would be built at each elementary school, bringing about 400 students total out of portables and into the buildings. Classrooms would be designed as flexible spaces with a focus on 21st century learning.

This would leave four portable classrooms at Churchill Elementary School and two at Lincoln Elementary School, according to district records.

Board Secretary Dean Elger named several issues with the use of portables, from hindering educational opportunities to creating safety hazards when severe weather strikes.

"I think it's good to keep that all up front and kind of center and make sure to keep moving towards eliminating as many of these problems as we can," Elger said.

Construction costs could be covered by a combination of district fund reserves and borrowing options, which would not increase taxes or extend the district's current bond debt, Ciserella said.

If only reserves were used, the district would be left with about 15 percent of its operating budget on-hand. Board policy calls for a target of 25 percent, Ciserella said.

The Board of Education will hear more about funding options from the district's financial partners at its Oct. 15 meeting.

The proposed classroom project could mean savings for the district, since it would no longer spend money to lease and maintain portables.

Currently, D-41 spends about $50,000 to maintain its portables and $140,000 to lease the units it does not own, according to district records.

While preliminary site designs were presented Sept. 23, more detailed renditions are expected to be prepared in time for the Oct. 15 Board meeting, said Julie Worthen, D-41 director of communications and grants.

No board action is expected to be taken at that meeting.

If approved, project construction could begin as early as summer 2014 at Franklin Elementary School. Franklin would be the first site to receive the new classrooms because it has an underground storm water detention system that can support an addition, speeding up the application and permitting process for that site.

Classroom additions at the remaining schools would be phased in during the next two years.


Other facility news

• D-41 and Wheaton College officials met last week to continue discussions from last year about the possible district purchase of college property at 1825 College Ave. for the purpose of building a new school. However, the district would need to increase its offer on the land for it to potentially be considered by the college, which wants to retain the land for its own future use, D-41 Superintendent Paul Gordon said.

• Two portable classrooms at Lincoln Elementary School remain unused due to a gnat infestation discovered mid-August. Currently, there are no signs of gnats, but district officials need to decide how to proceed, said Julie Worthen, D-41 director of communications and grants.

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