We’ve been critical, maybe even harsh, about the design of the new Madison Street headquarters for the District 97 public elementary schools. Uninspired, at best, has been the tone of our amateur architectural criticism.

We also asked that school officials not trot out the long-ago defense of the “uninspired, at best” 15-year-old middle schools, that they “work great on the inside.”

Alas, we recently joined a tour of the new $8.5 million building and we’d have to say, it works great on the inside. These carefully crafted offices, meeting rooms and common work areas occupy approximately the same square footage as the old HQ further west on Madison. That seems impossible considering all the useful space that has been put to good use in this project. It is worth noting, however, that the former headquarters — deemed temporary when first occupied 35 years ago — constituted the worst office working environment. Ever.

The new space is consciously open and transparent. A row of private offices is all glass-fronted. The board room has a wall of glass open to the street. The building has myriad meeting rooms of all sizes, which the district says will be made available readily to community groups. Work stations are modern and uniform. Staff has been logically grouped around functions where collaboration can inspire and simplify. Throughout the building there are multiple shared work stations where pick-up meetings can take place or a principal, in for a meeting, can spend productive time. Importantly, the building has been built for the current technology, in and of itself a gigantic upgrade.

This project represents a complex collaboration between D97 and village government. There was a swap of land, a large contribution from the Madison Street Tax Increment Finance district, and also a sharing of the village’s overlarge public works facility as the school’s new warehouse facility. Still to be settled is a likely deal for the village to acquire the district’s old and now vacant warehouse space at Madison and Scoville.

This is a collaboration to be celebrated and repeated.

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