Although yellow backhoes and piles of dirt still surround , the interior of the building, at least, was ready for students’ first day on Tuesday.
Crews began a nearly $7 million construction project in April, and will continue working on different parts of the project through next summer. An addition, which includes a new gymnasium, is expected to be completed in January.
“People are excited about what it’s going to bring for the school,” said District 28 Superintendent Larry Hewitt.
Construction crews completed renovations of the east side of the building over the summer. The work included new carpeting, ceiling tiles, lighting, plumbing, paint and cabinetry, according to Hewitt.
Renovation of the building's west side will be completed next summer when school is out, he said.
In March, the school board which include a secure front entry, seven new small classrooms and a new roof, throughout the 62-year old building. The district will spend $6.075 million for the project, while the will contribute an additional $1.25 million toward construction of the new gymnasium, which the agency will use for recreational programs.
“The need was there,” Hewitt said. “I think we’re still feeling some of the overcrowding, some of the lack of small group instructional space, and certainly the lack of gym space.”
Currently, gym classes are held in a 2,280-square-foot multipurpose room, which is two-thirds the size of a typical elementary school gym and doubles as a lunchroom.
Among the other improvements are permeable pavers for the school’s parking lot, a green roof and a rain garden, according to Hewitt. Funds for those projects will come, in part, from a $435,000 matching grant from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency. The grant is intended to help the school reduce stormwater runoff and pollution to the north branch of the Chicago River.
Permeable pavers will replace asphalt in the parking lot, allowing rainwater to sink into the ground and reduce flooding, Hewitt said, while a 2,600-square-foot green roof will also help absorb rainwater.
The 15,000-square-foot rain garden is already under construction to the east of the school, and will include native plants to attract dragonflies, birds and other creatures. Teachers are already planning to use it as an educational tool, the superintendent said.
Construction is just a week behind schedule, according to Hewitt, due to the severe thunderstorms that in late June. Given the fact that construction is scheduled to be complete in January, he said, the builders might be able to make up the lost time.
While construction crews had blocked off part of the school’s parking lot for most of the summer, Hewitt said they returned access to the area for school use last week. Construction work on the addition, which will continue throughout the school year, should not impede parking or traffic, he said.
All things considered, Hewitt said he was pleased with the way the renovations were proceeding and with the job his staff had done to get the school ready for students.
Teachers had to move materials out of their classrooms at the end of the school last year to make way for construction crews, but they were able to restore their rooms back to normal a week before school started.
“Our teachers and our custodial staff were working very, very hard the last week to get the rooms ready, to get everything set to go for our first day today, and they did a phenomenal job,” he said.