Plans unveiled by Brookfield-LaGrange Park School District 95 officials last week as the solution to the district’s booming enrollment represent a complete break with prior plans, which called for a new school to be built on the campus of S.E. Gross Middle School.
Instead, officials have decided on a major expansion at Brook Park School that will create a new first-floor kindergarten wing on the south side of the campus, allowing for the implementation of an all-day kindergarten program.
The 44,135-square-foot, two-story addition would add a total of 18 new classrooms and a new gymnasium at Brook Park School. The additional classrooms will allow for Brook Park School to house six sections of each grade, K through 5.
A new one-story gymnasium is also planned for S.E. Gross Middle School, to be built as a western addition to the existing building. Meanwhile, plans call for an extensive renovation of the north end of the building, which now houses the band program, industrial arts program and auditorium.
That area would be transformed into a first-floor “cafetorium” – a combination cafeteria and auditorium space – and rooms to accommodate the music/band program. The plans for S.E Gross are still being developed.
The price tag for the work at both schools is estimated at $35 million, though that number is not final. District officials are still waiting to get more solid cost estimates for the work at S.E. Gross Middle School. Those numbers ought to be available by Oct. 1.
Meanwhile, district officials have announced the first of what may be multiple public forums to allow school district residents to see the plans, get more information and ask questions.
That initial public forum is planned for Tuesday, Oct. 4 at 7 p.m. in the multipurpose room at Brook Park School, 1214 Raymond Ave. in LaGrange Park.
Officials initially considered building a new school building and gymnasium at the S.E. Gross campus, which could have resulted in the middle school being shifted to Brook Park and the elementary and intermediate grades consolidated at S.E. Gross.
However, when the cost estimates for such a plan came back to the board in August, officials quickly decided to scrap them. According to Superintendent Mark Kuzniewski, the cost for a new building at the S.E. Gross campus came to $58 million.
“There was no way I could make that work,” Kuzniewski said. “We had to retool.”
The solution was to concentrate on a major addition to Brook Park School, and particularly the need to create new classrooms that could accommodate all-day kindergarten.
“It was a top priority to make that a reality,” Kuzniewski said of adding all-day kindergarten. “It’ll be a significant benefit to this particular community.”
Under the new plan, District 95’s early childhood program for students ages 3 to 5 would also move to Brook Park School from its current location at S.E. Gross Middle School.
The $35 million plan will require the school district to ask taxpayers to agree to a tax increase to fund a portion of the construction costs. The ballpark figure school district officials are using right now as a referendum target is $20 million.
According to Kuzniewski, the school district will be able to issue non-referendum bonds totaling $15 million. The debt service on the non-referendum bonds can be paid out of general operating funds, Kuzniewski said.
As for the $20 million bond issue that would be funded by a tax increase on residential and commercial property owners of the school district, Kuzniewski said the impact to the owner of a $300,000 home would be about $500 per year.
The amount of the referendum also means that the school district will need to have legislation passed by the Illinois General Assembly, allowing the district to exceed its debt ceiling.
Kuzniewski said state Rep. Michael Zaleweski (D-Riverside), who also served as a sponsor for similar legislation allowing the Brookfield Public Library to seek a referendum this fall, supports District’s 95’s plan.
Zalewski is scheduled to be in the district on Sept. 23 for a walk-though of the school buildings, and Kuzniewski said he will work with Zalewski to craft legislation that could be introduced early in 2017 and passed in the spring.
The district has targeted the April 4, 2017 Consolidated Election for its referendum. If the measure passes, Kuzniewski said it would boost the chances of the downstate legislation.
“I have every confidence [the debt ceiling legislation] will be successful if the referendum is passed,” Kuzniewski said.