No more tennis balls: An art classroom at Beye School, 230 N. Cuyler Ave.Photos by TERRY DEAN/Staff

The cut-off tennis balls attached to the bottom legs of a stool in an art classroom at Beye School in Oak Park are quite the eye-catcher.

It was an impromptu construction by the teacher to help out a special needs student — the sound of the stool screeching across the floor was like “nails on a blackboard,” said Principal Jonathan Ellwanger. By next fall, that stool and the rest of the furniture in this and other classrooms will be gone, replaced by new furniture. And Beye School surely needs the replacement.

Much of the furniture has been there for years, some for decades. Ellwanger said much of the furniture has been there since he began teaching more than 20 years ago; he’s been principal for the last 10.

The district’s furniture vendor, Lowery McDonnell based in Wood Dale, did an assessment of furniture at Beye and the other nine District 97 schools. Beye was found to have the greatest need. Having the worst furniture in the district is a dubious distinction, Ellwanger acknowledges.

“There has never been a real plan to replace and remove furniture in the district,” he said. “Now that we’ve done this needs assessment and we were found to have the greatest need, we now have a systematic approach rather than waiting for something to break down, which is not the best time to start replacing it.”

Not every piece of furniture will end up in the junk pile. Furniture that’s still in pretty good shape will go to other schools in the district. The remaining items will likely be sold, donated or disposed of.

The cost of replacing furniture at Beye is just under $200,000. The district has a preliminary budget of roughly $2 million for all eight elementary schools over the next three years. The needs assessment involved every building principal and their grade-level teachers, said Therese O’Neill, D97’s assistant superintendent for finance and operations.

“So we started to construct what we believed were norms for classrooms and that led to some conversations … what should a kindergarten classroom look like? What should an intermediary classroom look like?” O’Neill said.

Replacing furniture has always been part of the district’s capital planning but has been deferred for years, O’Neill said. Some of the district’s referendum money, she noted, is slated for several deferred maintenance projects, including replacing decades-old furniture. About 90 percent of Beye’s furniture was deemed old enough to replace, O’Neill said.

Ellwanger said the furniture in the art classroom has probably been there when that section of the building was added in the 1950s.

“Much of this furniture greeted me when I began teaching 25 years ago,” he said.

The best of the worst

The Top (or bottom) 10 schools in terms of furniture-replacement need:

  1. Beye
  2. Hatch
  3. Lincoln
  4. Mann
  5. Holmes
  6. Whittier
  7. Longfellow
  8. Irving
  9. Brooks
  10. Julian

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