On June 26, after a five-year absence, the administrative headquarters of Riverside Elementary School District 96 is moving back to its former location at Central School.
Since 2008 the district office has been located in rented space at the former Mater Christi Catholic School in North Riverside, which is not located within the boundaries of District 96.
The district office is returning to its old digs at the garden level of Central School, the space the administration left because it was needed for classrooms for L.J. Hauser Junior High School.
In the just completed 2012-13 school year, the space was used as offices for Director of Special Education and Assessment Mary Polk and her staff, because the renovations at Hauser and the construction of the so called “bump-out” room last summer created more classroom space.
With the return of the district administration, Polk and her staff will likely be moved into the basement of Blythe Park School, which is undergoing renovation this summer.
Seven people will be squeezed into the administrative offices, including three new administrators — Superintendent Bhavna Sharma-Lewis, the new director of academic excellence and the new director of finance and operations, along with the four office staffers who have been working at Mater Christi for the past five years.
The seating may be kind of tight, because last week the school board decided not to go ahead with a plan that would have expanded the offices at Central into a classroom at a cost of nearly $300,000.
School board members also rejected a plan to renovate the existing office at Central School, which would have probably cost between $200,000 and $250,000.
The school board unanimously decided that it had no appetite for taking on another construction project this summer as extensive renovations are being done at Blythe Park and Hollywood schools.
“Everybody is constructioned out,” said District 96 school board President Mary Rose Mangia. “Nobody had an appetite to do much more.”
Board members also did not want to lose a classroom and knew that construction of new office space could not be completed by the start of the school year.
“We thought it was important that the project be completed by the time school started, and with the current plan that would not be able to happen,” said school board finance committee chairwoman Lisa Gaynor.
Board member Michael O’Brien said he did not think it was wise to sink nearly $300,000 into office space when the future needs for classroom space at Hauser are unclear.
“This is the most prudent decision right now and gives us flexibility as we explore other options,” O’Brien said.
District 96 has been paying $2,641.29 a month to rent four classrooms at the former Mater Christi Catholic School and had one year left on its lease. But the school needs a new roof and that apparently prompted the move back at this time to the old district headquarters.
However, the Rev. Louis Tylka, pastor of Mater Christi Church, said District 96 could have stayed at the school and just moved around the building as the new roof was being installed.
Tylka said that the parish would consider renting out space in the building. Mater Christi School closed in 2005.
“We certainly are open to tenants,” Tylka said. “We use the building for our own needs, for our religious education [classes], several parish meetings and such, but if we had another viable tenant we would be willing to entertain another viable tenant replace them.”
Tylka said that he thinks the District 96 officials felt pressure to locate district headquarters within the district.
“From what I have heard, I’m not sure this is the best move for them,” Tylka said. “My hunch is that the whole move is a political move to satisfy those who were upset that their district offices went to North Riverside, which I don’t understand for a couple reasons. One being is that part of North Riverside is in District 96, number two is that we had space available that met their needs and actually exceeded their needs.”
Tylka said that the parish was a good landlord and occasionally even let District 96 use other spaces in the building they didn’t actually rent.
But District 96 officials say that it has always been their intention to move the district headquarters back to the district.
Some people felt that the location of the district office out of the district contributed to the isolation and inaccessibility that some felt with former Superintendent Jonathan Lamberson.
The district office will be closed to the public for telephone, walk-in and email services until July 1 as the new office is being set up. The district office will open for business on Monday, July 1. The district office telephone number will remain the same. Those who need to reach district officials before July 1 can leave messages for staff by calling 708-447-3896.
Sharma-Lewis, the new superintendent, will not begin work for District 96 until July 8 even though her official start date is July 1. She is taking vacation time for her first week on the job because of preplanned vacation with her family.