D97 looks to solve overcrowding issues at Beye, Longfellow

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By Terry Dean

Staff reporter

The projected overcrowding in the next three years at some District 97 schools has officials there rethinking classroom space at those buildings.

According to enrollment projections, Beye and Longfellow schools will be over their capacity by seven and 20 students respectively by 2017. Currently, Beye and Longfellow have roughly 410 and 690 kids. Longfellow's capacity is 689 but enrollment is projected to reach 709 students by 2017. At Beye, enrollment is projected to reach 449 kids by that year, while the building's student capacity is 442. 

D97 administrators and school board members discussed options for the two buildings at the board's regular meeting on Jan. 28. Those options include significant renovations to the two buildings to add extra classrooms. Another solution likely involves changing school boundaries, but board members and administrators stressed that such discussions are not planned for right now.

The district's architectural firm, STR Partners, presented construction options for Longfellow, 715 S. Highland, and Beye, 230 N. Cuyler, at last Tuesday's meeting.

Options included reconfiguring existing space in the buildings to add more classrooms and small study areas. But some of those projects would impact other programs in each building. For example, one option involves moving Longfellow's pre-kindergarten program to another school building. Longfellow's the only D97 school housing a PKP program. 

One of the options for Beye entails relocating the after-school Hephzibah program currently housed there in order to acquire additional classroom space. Another option involves replacing the school's current Spanish language classroom with a new small study group area. Spanish would then be taught in another area in the building rather than its own dedicated classroom. 

 D97 officials, however, stressed that all of the options are very preliminary and only conceptual at this point, and that no decisions have been made about any options nor is any construction work being planned. 

Supt. Albert Roberts added that there need to be discussions about how instruction would be impacted before signing off on any options. 

The costs to add classrooms — which in some cases entail reconfiguring areas like bathrooms and student locker rooms — range from $250,000 to $500,000 per classroom. Jennifer Costanzo, an architect with STR, said it was difficult right now to predict just how many classrooms are needed.

 Board members, however, noted that any construction that's approved would need to begin before the 2017-2018 school year. As for changing school boundaries, board members said that is a long-term discussion needing broad community input. Still, some members believe changing school boundaries is a better solution for overcrowding. 

"We can't build our way out of this," said Peter Traczyk. "I honestly think that that is a so much easier and cheaper solution that I, frankly, am uninterested in looking at any of these building options until we have explored school boundaries first."

Bob Spatz, the board's president, said boundaries should be looked at but not before examining capacity issues at the schools. 

"I think we have to examine school boundaries but I think we'll find that the numbers fluctuate as to which is crowded and which isn't crowded enough, that if you're trying to anticipate enrollment trends you will shift boundaries and then have problems," Spatz said.

Roberts said he will discuss the various options and potential impacts on instruction with building principals and their staff. 

In related news, the board also discussed schoolyard and landscaping renovations slated this summer for Brooks and Julian middle schools. The eight elementary schools have already received playground upgrades over the last two summers. Whittier School, meanwhile, is slated to have an elevator installed this summer, part of its accessibility upgrades. 

The board is scheduled to vote on these two projects later this spring. 


In the Jan. 29, Wednesday Journal article titled "D200 board votes down class size recommendation," board member Steve Gevinson did not dispute the data provided by the administration showing class sizes at OPRF remaining steady over the last six years. 

Wednesday Journal regrets the error. 

Reader Comments

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Posted: February 11th, 2014 8:55 AM

I remember when (not that many years ago), most elementary schools underwent "life safety" modifications - the result being expanded office space and conversion of (usually 2) classrooms to teacher workrooms. Maybe our buildings have more space than we realize. Is it time to reconvert those classrooms back to classroom?

read more/know more  

Posted: February 6th, 2014 8:05 AM

Growth, which was strong at about 1 percent a year in the 1990s, has weakened substantially since the economy slipped into recession in 2008, and the prolonged weak recovery has kept things tepid. The rate appeared to have bottomed out in 2011 and ticked up slightly in 2012, but dipped again in 2013. Read more: http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2013/dec/30/us-population-level-drops-due-low-birth-rates-immi/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+Front-TheWashingtonTimesAme


Posted: February 6th, 2014 6:54 AM

Simple math - dx/dy rate of change in popluation from single households to families with kids.. so you could have fewer people but the composition of the household changes - simple analogy. Cicero is about the same population and now 90% hispanic. How we got here is almost irrelevent. What is the board strategy? new buildings? new processes? think not. sadly this is a board of paper pushers not innovators


Posted: February 6th, 2014 6:09 AM

Building usage has changed over the years: demand for class sizes under 30, more individualization, and far more special services requiring their own spaces. The world has changed, whether you believe it or not.

OP Transplant  

Posted: February 5th, 2014 6:39 PM

545 - Enrollment numbers are indeed confusing. By middle school, we start seeing increasing numbers of guests from the east, but that has not traditionally been a issue in lower elementary grades. Reduced class sizes, maybe?

OP Resident # 545 from Oak Park  

Posted: February 5th, 2014 4:49 PM

While I admit to not knowing all the details yet, something doesn't look right here. I'm a 3rd generation Dooper. In '68, our population was 68K, & we had the same # of schools in D97. Yes, family size was larger & some chose parochial schools then, but this still doesn't add up. How can D97 be at/near capacity w/15K fewer residents? We aren't growing that much. I'd like to see school by school enrollment #'s for each year from 1960 to present. Has the board studied any history? It's curious...


Posted: February 5th, 2014 4:30 PM

News Flash - middle schools are overcrowded as well. As many as 32-33 students in a class with one teacher. The issue is families with kids have replaced the empty nesters and OP97 has no strategy to keep up.

No more $$  

Posted: February 5th, 2014 3:29 PM

I will move before I give District 97 an increase in its levy! They are not responsible enough with what we give them now.

D97 parent  

Posted: February 5th, 2014 2:46 PM

Between the overcrowding, the lack of A/C, and the condition of a couple of the older elementary schools I've been in, it seems like taxpayers should be preparing for some big D97 construction bills in the next decades as we struggle to improve infrastructure. The middle schools look great. Now the rest of the district has to keep up.

OP Transplant  

Posted: February 5th, 2014 2:35 PM

To 545 - My point regarding the middle schools is that they were purpose-built for the MS team concept. They are, in effect, a series of "suites", which is not how schools are usually built. They would not be easily repurposed as K through 8 buildings, and they would be the world's biggest kindergarten centers. The district made a clear commitment when they were built. They're middle schools.

Think Outside the Box from Pizza Hut  

Posted: February 5th, 2014 2:26 PM

Has anyone considered "bunk desks" to alleviate crowding? They are similar to bunk beds, ony with desks. You can fit twice as many desks in one classroom.

OP Resident # 545 from Oak Park  

Posted: February 5th, 2014 1:50 PM

OPT, true that Brooks & Julian are newer bldgs., but don't agree that their only use is for a middle school model. The fact that they're newer should mean they are that much easier to adapt to a different use. It's an elementary school,not really complicated. If practical, maybe also use them also for centralized Pre-K. Absolutely no to building new schools. The ones we have were fine for K-8 for 75+ years & can be again.

OP Transplant  

Posted: February 5th, 2014 1:04 PM

We have two relatively new middle schools designed specifically for a certain middle-school model. Should we scrap them, 545? Build all new schools? Look up "viable" before you us it.

OP Resident # 545 from Oak Park  

Posted: February 5th, 2014 12:28 PM

The only really viable solution here is to return to the K-8 neighborhood model, eliminating middle schools. It was always a bad idea, made worse over time. There is no viable data proving otherwise, and more recent trends show the teaching community moving rapidly in that direction. If we are truly the "progressive " town we say we are, this should be a no brain-er. End the middle schools!

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