The backhoes moved in at Hauser Junior High School signaling the start of a complete renovation of the front of the school property, a project in the works for two years.

And while the District 96 school board likely thought all of the scrutiny over the plans was in the rearview mirror, part of the plan – demolishing a low brick wall and removing (temporarily, as it turns out) a school message board – infuriated family members of a former teacher for whom the wall and message board were dedicated.

The marquee sign was dedicated in memory of Bill Mathis a former industrial arts teacher and Riverside firefighter, who died in 1998 at the age of 49. Mathis was instrumental in the design of the wall and sign.

On June 12 a member of the Mathis family created a Facebook page decrying the demolition of the wall and removal of the marquee sign which, according to the site, “my father designed on his death bed and was dedicated in his honor due to his 25 years of service to the community.”

The title of the Facebook page is “Disgrace at Hauser, Dr. Jonathan Lamberson is destroying memorials.”

There has been no activity on the Facebook page since June 15, when people were urged to attend that evening’s meeting of the District 96 board and when the Mathis family learned that the wall needed to be removed to accommodate a new entrance foyer to the school and that the marquee sign would be relocated just to the south of the new foyer.

School board member Mary Stimming said she regretted the board did not notify the Mathis family of the plans in advance.

“It was an oversight on our part,” said Stimming, a member of the board’s building committee. “In the future we’ll think to ask the question.”

According to Superintendent Jonathan Lamberson, the marquee sign will be rededicated in the fall. In addition, the plan has also forced the relocation of three memorial plaques, which were largely hidden from view. Those plaques commemorate three Riverside women, two of whom were District 96 school board members, murdered at Starved Rock State Park in 1960.

It’s not certain where those plaques will end up, although they will certainly be located in front of the school building, Lamberson said. One thought was to move them near the flag pole. Another idea was to relocate the plaques closer to the portico, which formerly served as the main entrance to the school, where there is not so much foot traffic.

Part of the demolition also required the removal of several wooden benches located behind the brick wall. There does not appear to be a plan to replace those benches in the new plan.

The work at Hauser Junior High includes the construction of two “study circles” – measuring 38 and 30 feet in diameter respectively. The brick-paver circles will be bordered by a two-foot high stone wall topped by a stone seat cap. Walkways will be widened and perennial flowers and shrubs will give the property more visual interest and color.

A key element of the new plan is the construction of a new entrance vestibule. The roughly 10-by-11-foot foyer is needed to make the building more secure, Lamberson said.

“It’s the most pronounced security issue we have in the district,” Lamberson.

The new vestibule will discourage people from holding the door open for others and allow the district greater control of that entry/exit, Lamberson said.

The improvements at Hauser Junior High are just part of the work the district is doing at its buildings this summer. Outside of Central School, improvements are being done to the playground area to the tune of about $10,000, funded in large part by a private donation and a fundraiser by that school’s PTA.

The work at Hauser Junior High will cost $175,000 and is part of a $580,000 building campaign that includes life/safety improvements inside Ames School in Riverside and a new landscape design at Hollywood School in Brookfield.

Exterior work at Hollywood School include elements similar to the work being done at Hauser, including a study circle, wider walkways and many new perennial flowers and shrubs.

Hollywood and Ames schools are in line to get new classroom doors this summer. The work also includes improvement to mechanical and fire protection systems at the schools.