Nearly 16 months after formally taking ownership of the house next to Ames School, the Riverside Elementary School District 96 Board of Education has taken a concrete step toward determining what to build on the land. 

At its April 18 meeting, the school board unanimously approved a memo of understanding with DLA Architects, calling for the firm to create three conceptual drawings of a new building at 92 Repton Road in Riverside. 

The drawings will cost the district no more than $25,000. Drawings of three possibilities, along with cost estimates, are to be presented to the school board at its Aug. 1 meeting. A preliminary set of design drawings will be presented at a meeting in June after board member Joel Marhoul called for more public input.

The school district purchased the vacant house at 92 Repton Road in a foreclosure auction in late 2016 for $339,100.

The house has sat empty for the last two years. It is slated to be demolished this summer and a new building likely will be built there in the summer of 2019 or the summer of 2020. 

Before starting the process of deciding what to build there, the district had its architect conduct a comprehensive general facilities review of the facility needs in the district.

Now the planning for what to build next to Ames School will begin in earnest. Over the next month or so the architect will conduct focus groups with teachers, students, and staff and will meet with district’s Facilities Advisory Committee for four half-day “visioning sessions.” 

The Facilities Advisory Committee consists of top district administrators, school board members Lynda Murphy and Rich Regan, and one teacher at each grade level. 

Additional classroom space at Ames School is almost certain to be one use for the property. Other possibilities include a new home for the district’s administrative offices or for the district’s Early Childhood Education Center. 

Increasing playground space at Ames School is another idea that has been talked about. It is not clear whether the district will decide to add on to Ames School or build a separate building.

At last week’s board meeting, Marhoul pushed for members of the general public to have a chance to participate in the planning and the visioning sessions before the Aug. 1 unveiling of three conceptual drawings.

“The community and the board should have an opportunity to see these plans,” Marhoul said. “It is appropriate for the board and public to have input.”

Some other board members were skeptical of Marhoul’s desire to add members of the public to the visioning sessions and said that the public would have ample opportunity to weigh in after the three concepts are presented.

But board President Jeff Miller worked out a compromise in which the architect would present a preliminary version of the conceptual drawings to the board and public by the end of June for feedback.

“Everybody is very committed to community engagement around here,” said Superintendent Martha Ryan-Toye. “Visioning is very different from community input.”

District officials say that they do not know whether a final plan can be developed and agreed upon in time to bid out the work for the summer of 2019.

“Nobody is promising construction in 2019,” Regan said.