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District 99 unveils preliminary design plans for Downers Grove North, South high schools

Learning commons are focal point of modern, student-centered environments

Preliminary designs for Downers Grove North and South high schools feature contemporary layouts focused on student needs and modern learning.
Preliminary designs for Downers Grove North and South high schools feature contemporary layouts focused on student needs and modern learning.

DOWNERS GROVE – Community High School District 99 Superintendent Hank Thiele pulled back the curtain on preliminary designs for Downers Grove North and South high schools during an Oct. 17 community meeting, and they feature contemporary layouts focused on student needs and modern learning.

The designs address all of the needs outlined in the district’s master facility plan: accessibility, air conditioning, modern learning spaces, learning commons and parity across both campuses.

“We had these common themes across the district that we were looking to solve with our master facility plan,” Thiele said during an Oct. 18 Facebook Live presentation of the plans.

Enhanced security measures and air conditioning already have been accomplished at both schools.

Parity will be achieved by building a new gym at Downers Grove North, along with revitalizing the cafeteria. Meanwhile, Downers Grove South will get new outdoor space for physical education, as well as a new auditorium.

The design reveal comes seven months after District 99 voters approved a referendum seeking $136.6 million in bonds to fund the work, which is scheduled to begin in 2019.

Thiele said the goal is to build facilities that will have lasting impact on the community.

“We want facilities that are going to last well beyond the next 20 years,” he said. “We want facilities that the community is going to be proud of 100 years from now.”

At Downers Grove South, that means eliminating design characteristics that are rooted in the 1960s. Thiele called the school, which opened in 1964, “very boxy,” a common look for schools built during that time period when rapid suburban expansion called for quick constuction.

The new design will soften the hard lines and include a new exterior and entrances, he said.

“That 1960s turquoise color around the outside of the building will go away, and the building will look more modern and visually pleasing,” Thiele said.

Downers Grove North, meanwhile, will celebrate its past as part of the renovation.

“Inside of North High and built around it is the original 1928 Downers Grove High School,” Thiele said. “We’re going to open up and expose those original walls to bring the original school back to life.”

The south half of Downers Grove North will realize most of the upgrades, as the other portion of the building was updated in recent years.

The center piece of the work at both schools will be the addition of learning commons.

“Everything that a student might need through the day they can access through those commons,” Thiele said.

The commons will serve as a central gathering place. Students will be able to access the offices of school counselors, psychologists, social workers and the health center from the commons, Thiele said.

“It’s the idea that we have this big plaza in the center of the school and from there students can access all the resources that they need," he said.

The commons will lead to other parts of the school such as the cafeteria, library and auditorium.

As a result, the current passing period between lunch and study hall will no longer be necessary. Instead, students will decide how to use that 50-minute period.

“They get to pick and choose how to use that time the way that they need to use it each day,” Thield said.

The designs also call for study lofts, which provide space for individual or group work. Collaboration stairs will be built to provide space for groups of students.

The new auditorium at Downers Grove South will feature 1,200 seats, as well as a black box studio theater and new dressing rooms.

Meanwhile, the new fine arts wing, which will be located at the northeast corner of the building, will include culinary arts facilities with two labs and a demonstration kitchen.

A science lab will be added at both schools, which will lead to more flexibility in scheduling, Thiele said.

Other changes at Downers Grove North include relocation of the loading dock, a new gym, cafeteria revitalization and a learning commons. The three-story 1955 addition will be remodeled inside and out.

A gymnastics loft will be added, as well as a new radio and television studio. The school also will get new culinary arts space. The libraries at both schools will be remodeled as well.

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