With a successful tax referendum in the rearview mirror, officials in Brookfield-LaGrange Park Elementary School District 95 are setting their sights on expanding Brook Park School, 30th Street and Raymond Avenue in LaGrange Park, as early as the spring of 2007.

At a meeting of the District 95 Committee of the Whole last Thursday, school board members discussed a tentative timeline for constructing an addition at Brook Park along with coming up with a temporary solution for the immediate space crunch there.

The changes at Brook Park will be the first phase of a comprehensive realignment within District 95, which is being guided by three separate initiatives?”the district’s ongoing academic strategic plan, a facilities master planning effort begun last September and the district’s 10-year life-safety survey, which must be completed in 2006.

“Now is the time to ask for this,” said board member Thomas Powers, who is chairman of the board’s Buildings and Grounds Committee. “If we don’t ask now, we’re not going to do it. Once we get the issue of Brook Park out of there, then it’ll really open up [reconfiguration possibilities for] S.E. Gross School.”

At the their May 11 meeting at S.E. Gross School in Brookfield, board members will provide residents with a status report on the Brook Park proposal and are expected to vote on whether to seek a mobile classroom unit to address space issues at the school for the 2006-07 school year.

While the district’s architect, Alan Armbrust of FGM Architects, said that plans for a Brook Park addition are still “truly conceptual” it will likely be a U-shaped building attached to the school’s north end.

The building addition would result in the loss of some playing field space, but would provide a significant gain in the number of classrooms, not only in the addition itself, but in the old school building as well.

“The addition might include things like additional classrooms, kindergarten rooms and multipurpose areas,’ Armbrust said. “And adding student support areas, will allow us to free up classroom space in the [current school].”

One significant change the addition will allow is moving fifth grade from S.E. Gross Middle School to Brook Park School. The change will free up significant space at S.E. Gross School and allow it to pursue a traditional middle school model.

“It’s important to remember that the biggest issue facing S.E. Gross is space,” said board Vice President John LaBarbera. “By … adapting to a true middle school model at Gross and moving fifth grade to Brook Park, it allows us to consider creative ways to use [S.E. Gross School].”

Powers estimated the cost of such an addition to be in the $3- to $4-million range. The district currently has approximately $3 million in its working cash fund from bonds sold in 2004. That reserve could help fund the debt of the new capital project.

“It’s still very early, but [the cost] is in the neighborhood of our bonding capacity, and we’ll be able to deal with Gross.”

The nuts and bolts of what the Brook Park addition will end up looking like won’t become final until the fall. The District 95 board wants to wait until both the life-safety survey is complete and the academic strategic plan is in place before settling on any design.

The board will also call a final community forum session in the fall to get additional feedback on the addition from residents.

Mobile classroom a likelihood

Meanwhile, as plans for an addition to Brook Park move forward, the board is expected to vote in May to seek a mobile classroom at the school to ease overcrowding.

Brook Park Principal Claudia Newman said last Thursday that as a result of the district’s expanded curricular offerings, the school is now at capacity. Next year, she said the school will be short one classroom since she expects to have five sections in first through fourth grades.

“We’re short a classroom and we have inadequate storage?”that’s an understatement,” Newman said. “My office is storage at times. The hallways are used for storage, too. The first-grade hallway is stacked with boxes and tables. It shouldn’t be that way.”

Although the student population at Brook Park has actually decreased somewhat since 2000-01, the school has forfeited classroom space to accommodate other programs such as special education, technology, extended day kindergarten, music and band.

Book closets and locker rooms have been turned into offices and classrooms, and small group instruction is often done in hallways, according to Newman. There are no rooms for staff meetings or conferences and half of the library has been converted into a computer lab.

If the district buys a mobile classroom unit for Brook Park, it would likely be located on the southwest corner of the fenced-in paved playground area south of the school.

The unit also won’t be cheap. According to figures provided by Armbrust, leasing and installing the unit would cost the district over $125,000.

While a majority of the board appeared amenable to the idea of the mobile classroom, board member Jonathan Dunker said he wasn’t sold on it. He urged the board to consider other measures, including the possibility of temporarily moving special education services headquartered at Brook Park to S.E. Gross School.

“I particularly don’t like the modular idea,” Dunker said.

Others felt moving special education services from Brook Park would overburden S.E. Gross and said that moving children from school to school during the day was not the best solution.

“We don’t necessarily have the facilities [at S.E. Gross School] to service all special education students,” LaBarbera said. “To now overburden them doesn’t seem to be the best solution.”