(Illustration by Javier Govea)

If the Riverside Elementary School District 96 Board of Education ever gets the urge to expand the footprint of Ames School there’s now an option to do so.

On Aug. 2, the Riverside Elementary School District 96 voted 6 to 0 to buy the house directly east of Ames School for $343,822.18. The house at 92 Repton Road is unoccupied and has been in foreclosure proceedings since 2013. After closing on the deal the school district has plans to demolish the home.

A facilities committee consisting of district staff and community members will be formed to study how to use the new property. An addition to Ames School, 86 Southcote Road, is one possibility, as is an expanded playground or some combination of the two uses.

The backyard of the nearly 17,000-square-foot lot is directly east of the small Ames School playground. Ames students also often play on the asphalt parking lot west of the school building.

Space has long been an issue at Ames, and the addition of nearly half an acre of space will give the district options. The school building has 17 regular classrooms, which is at least one less than what administrators would like.

Ames ideally would have the capacity for three sections of each grade. But with 17 regular classrooms, Ames typically has one grade level with only two sections. Some students who live in the Ames attendance area are forced to attend other District 96 schools because of space reasons.

“The addition of this property to the Ames School campus will allow for greater educational and recreational opportunities for students,” said District 96 school board President Jeff Miller, reading from a statement after the vote to approve the purchase. “The purchase of this property will allow the district to address space constraints at Ames, with potential effects district-wide. The board will be conducting an in depth analysis of the space and facility needs throughout the district.”

Community members who would like to serve of the facility committee are encouraged to contact Superintendent Martha Ryan-Toye by email (ryan-toyem@district96.org) or phone (708-447-5007).

Miller said that the house becoming available was a tremendous opportunity.

“If you had to choose one lot in the entire district to buy, it would be that one,” Miller said.

Miller noted that the district has saved money recently on construction costs, particularly its solution to update the steel windows at Blythe Park School, which saved the district about $1 million.

“We’ve saved a lot of money over the last couple of years and now we have an opportunity to invest,” Miller said.

The district will pay cash for the house. District 96 currently has cash reserves of about $25.5 million, according to David Sellers, the school district’s interim director of finance and operations.

For the 2016-17 school year, Ames will have three sections of every grade except for first grade, which will have two sections. In the past, there had been talk of turning the art room into a regular classroom, Ames but that option was rejected because the Ames art room has a kiln and “art on a cart” was thought to provide a lesser educational experience.

Enrollment at Ames in 2015-15 was 366 students. About 10 kindergarteners in the Ames attendance areas were sent to other schools last year, some by their parents’ own choice.

“I think ideally, in my mind, Ames should probably be a three-section school, but that can never be accomplished without having one additional classroom,” said Ames Principal Todd Gierman.

For the past two years, music classes at Ames have been held in the multipurpose room, which also serves as a lunchroom. Gifted classes for fifth-graders are taught in the Ames library.

The agreed upon $343,822.18 purchase price of the house was determined by the amount required to pay off the balance of the mortgage. The home itself is approximately 1,700 square feet.

The house, which is owned by Jeffrey Mitzman, was declared uninhabitable on May 10 by the Riverside Water Department when the water was shut off.

Miller said that the property initially was appraised at $375,000 or $380,000 based on viewing the exterior of the house. District 96 officials then asked the appraiser to examine the inside of the house.

 After doing so, appraisal came back at $330,000. The difference between the appraisal and the purchase price was what was required to pay off the mortgage and get the deal done.

The deal is expected to close in early September. Board members say they want to demolish the house as soon as possible. Then the district committee will examine how to best use the newly available space.

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