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Education

District 99 facility plans start to take shape as new school year begins

Facility improvements continue to be a conversation at Community High School District 99 Board of Education meetings since voters in March approved a referendum to fund significant changes at both Downers Grove high schools.
Facility improvements continue to be a conversation at Community High School District 99 Board of Education meetings since voters in March approved a referendum to fund significant changes at both Downers Grove high schools.

DOWNERS GROVE – Facility improvements have been an ongoing conversation at Community High School District 99 Board of Education meetings since voters in March approved a referendum to fund significant changes at both Downers Grove high schools.

With each passing month, the discussions include more specifics. The work of numerous committees featuring parents, students, faculty and administrators is sharpening the focus of plans that ultimately will determine how Downers Grove North and South high schools will look in a few years.

“I’m looking forward to all of the work we’re going to do in designing the new facilities this year,” Superintendent Hank Thiele said at the Aug. 6 board meeting. “We have over 200 staff members involved in that. We have 75 students. We have 40 community members.”

Thiele said the focus of conversation has changed from conceptual to practical.

“Last year, we spent a lot of time talking about ‘what if,’ " he said. “Now, this year, it’s here. Now it’s, ‘Exactly what does this look like? What’s it going to feel like? What’s going to go into each of these spaces?’ There's going to be a lot of exciting work, and it’s going to last for a long time. There’s a lot pressure on making sure it’s correct. I’m really excited about that work.”

District officials have started to tour other high schools to garner design ideas. The first tour was at New Trier Township High School. The school’s Winnetka campus completed a $104.9 million renovation and addition project in 2017.

“It was really beneficial,” board member Michael Davenport said of the tour. “I think it spurs some ideas and thoughts you wouldn’t have had otherwise. A big part of this was not just seeing the facilities, but hearing from the teachers and staff about their experiences with those facilities now that they’re in place.”

He said a recent tour of the Downers Grove South auditorium also was insightful.

Davenport, an architect and member of the district committee charged with planning new spaces, got an up-close look behind and beneath the auditorium stage.

“We got a lot of things we need to do here,” he said. “What we’re doing is really needed. We’ve been making such great use out of that space. It’s so impressive. Now I have a new appreciation for the quality of work that goes on with our fine arts staff and our students that they’ve been able to put on the kind of the productions they’ve been able to do with the kind of facilities that they have. It makes it all that much more remarkable after you see what we’re living with.”

Davenport added new facilities will affect the way productions are staged.

“I know we’re really great at making use out of what we have,” he said. “But so many processes and even things that we have are the results of what we have in terms of space. When we get new spaces, it should change the way we do things.”

The various committees will reconvene next week to continue their work, District 99 Director of Communications Jill Browning said in an email. Community design team meetings will be Aug. 28 and Sept. 19.

A meeting for neighbors who live adjacent to both schools will be Sept. 18, and a community open house and informational session will be at 7 p.m. Oct. 17 at Downers Grove North.

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