By Terry Dean
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.