By Bob Skolnik
Riverside Elementary School District 96 will hold a community engagement forum on Monday, Oct. 16 to get public input as the district methodically moves through a review of its facilities. The forum will be held in the auditorium at L.J. Hauser Junior High School, 65 Woodside Road in Riverside, and is scheduled to last from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Those planning to attend the forum are being asked to RSVP, by visiting online at www.district96.org/rsvp, though advance notice of attendance is not required.
The district has been engaged in the review for more than a year as officials try to decide how best to use their facilities, especially since it purchased a property last year on Repton Road next to Ames School.
Officials had planned to demolish the house this summer but held off because it would be more economical to demolish it at the same time any new construction is ready to begin, perhaps next summer.
That land could be used to build an addition to Ames School or add playground space at Ames or both. The space could also be used for a building to house administrators.
The school board has established a facilities advisory committee, which includes two school board members, Lynda Murphy and Rich Regan, some district officials and staff and community members.
The district has also posted on its website a survey to gather community input. The survey can be accessed by clicking the "District 96 Master Facility Planning Process" link on the home page of the district's website at www.district96.org.
More outdoor play areas and green space are priorities for many in the district. Freeing up more classroom space is also a goal. The district's schools are more crowded than usual this year. Two class sections were added at Central School and one at Ames School this year.
How best to maximize the district's existing space is something district officials have been pondering. One idea is to move the district's administrative team out of its current location at the Central School/Hauser campus. That would open up more space for classrooms for those schools.
From 2008 to 2013, the district's administrative offices were located at the former Mater Christi School in North Riverside, a move that created its own issues. Some didn't like that the administrative headquarters was located outside the school district, and some complained that the superintendent seemed isolated and invisible at Mater Christi.
A few years ago the school board considered trying to buy two homes on Woodside Road across from Hauser/Central to possibly relocate administrators, but that never occurred.
The district has hired a demographer to study future enrollment trends. Projections call for the district's enrollment to remain fairly steady in the foreseeable future.
Last summer, the district's architectural firm completed a thorough review of the district's five schools and presented a detailed evaluation and alternatives for the administrators and the school board to consider.
District officials are looking forward to hearing from community members.
"There are a lot of people in the community who have knowledge about the buildings and maybe some of the things we could improve," said Jeff Miller, the president of the District 96 Board of Education.
"We've talked a lot about space constraints, we've talked a lot about outdoor learning areas and outdoor playgrounds. I think the idea is just to engage the largest set of people as possible to solicit ideas and suggestions for us to think about."