When students arrive for the first day of school on Aug. 20 in Brookfield-LaGrange Park District 95, they’re in for quite a change.

Both S.E. Gross Middle School in Brookfield and Brook Park School in LaGrange Park will remain active construction zones throughout the school year, though officials don’t believe the ongoing work will affect instruction.

“We’re kind of in two separate areas, independent of what the activities are,” said Tom Thies, the project superintendent in charge of the expansion and renovation at S.E. Gross.

But on a recent visit to S.E. Gross Middle School, the building was alive with the sounds of heavy construction with plenty of evidence that work is progressing according to schedule.

On the ground floor of the east wing of the building – the area that once housed the wood shop, music room and district offices has been completely opened up to create the space that will eventually be the new cafetorium.

Sections of the concrete floor were excavated to hold the footings for steel columns that support the ceiling above, and the scaffolding still in place inside the space will be taken down in the next couple of weeks so a new concrete floor can be poured.

In the former auditorium space above, the old balcony seating is gone and large new windows have been cut into the north and south walls in anticipation of the new band, art and conference rooms on the new second floor of the wing and the STEM lab that will occupy the third floor.

The shaft for the elevator giving access to all three floors is in place. The next step is to pour concrete on the second floor to level the sloping floor of what was the main floor of the old auditorium. 

Outside on what was the former asphalt playground, the footings for the new gymnasium are in place and three interior walls are already standing.

In early September, the precast concrete exterior walls for the gymnasium – which have a veneer of brick and concrete that will mesh with the look of the original building – will be in place.

By the end of November, according to a timeline provided by the district’s contractor, Executive Construction Inc., the gymnasium will be completely enclosed by the end of November.

The only hiccup at S.E. Gross was the discovery of soil under the playground that wasn’t suitable for carrying the weight of the new gym. That soil had to be removed and the excavated area back-filled with stone at a cost of about $179,000, said District 95 Superintendent Mark Kuzniewski.

While instruction shouldn’t be affected by the ongoing construction, students will notice other changes – some permanent, some temporary.

Because of the gym construction, the door that previously served as a main student entrance/exit on the west end of the building will become the entrance to the gym.

A new main entrance has been created on Lincoln Avenue, and that door leads into a new hallway. 

For the 2018-19 school year, students won’t congregate outside school in the mornings. Instead, they’ll be allowed to enter the school directly through the new Lincoln Avenue door beginning at 7:45 a.m.

With the loss of the playground, at least temporarily, recess on nice days will take place over at nearby Madlin Park, just kitty-corner from the school.

And for the next year, said Principal Ryan Evans, it will be difficult for the entire student body to gather at the same time.

“We’ll do more things as a grade level, but besides that [it’ll be] operations as normal,” Evans said.

Three rooms on the first floor of S.E. Gross School have been converted into kindergarten classrooms for the 2018-19 school year, since the kindergarten wing of Brook Park School has been demolished to make way for a new classroom addition there.

There will be three morning and two afternoon kindergarten classes at S.E. Gross this year, with a shuttle transporting kindergartners from Brook Park to Brookfield each morning, and taking afternoon students back to Brook Park when the school day is over.

Brook Park work in full swing

Meanwhile, over at Brook Park School the south wing, which once housed kindergarten classrooms, has been demolished to make way for the new kindergarten wing, which will allow for a new full-day kindergarten program in District 95.

The concrete footings are in place for the new addition, and excavation is in process on the west side of the property to make way for the footings for a new gymnasium.

“Construction is going surprisingly well,” said Brook Park Principal Mike Sorensen.

According to a construction timeline, the walls of the new gym and an addition just north of the gym should be up by the end of October with the roof going on by the end of November.

The walls of the new two-story kindergarten wing on the south end of the building should be up by the end of November, with officials hoping to have the roof on that addition in place by Christmas.

As at S.E Gross School, students for the 2018-19 school year will be allowed to enter the building beginning at 7:45 every morning, since there’s not much room outside to line up.

Kindergartners who use the bus service will be able to do so for free in 2018-19 and students will be dropped off on Harrison Street before immediately getting on shuttles to S.E. Gross.

As in Brookfield, the students at Brook Park school will have recess during decent weather at Yena Park, which is immediately north of the school.

The school’s two computers labs have been converted into regular classrooms to accommodate students who are being displaced by construction, and devices will be provided via carts in the classrooms.

This will be the first year of the district’s Access for All program, which will put devices in the hands of every third- and fourth-grade student in 2018-19. The program will phase in over the next couple of years to include all grades, making the old computer labs obsolete.

Art and music will also be provided itinerantly, on a cart for 2018-19, since those program spaces were lost to demolition this summer.

School board OKs bond intent resolution

On Aug. 9, the Brookfield-LaGrange Park School District 95 Board of Education voted unanimously to approve a resolution signaling their intent to issue $15 million in alternate revenue bonds – the final debt issuance in connection with the S.E. Gross and Brook Park expansion and renovation projects.

In September the school board will hold a public hearing and then vote in October to authorize issuing the bonds. According to District 95 Superintendent Mark Kuzniewski, the debt likely won’t be issued until early 2019, though that could change somewhat based on interest rate information.

“When the market looks good, we’ll have everything in place,” Kuzniewski said.

The district already issued $20 million in bonds in two phases earlier this year, an initial $7.5 million issuance followed after June 1 by a $12.5 million issuance.

The second issuance was delayed until at least June 1, because special legislation allowing District 95 to exceed its debt ceiling became effective on that date.

The $20 million bond issue, the debt service of which will be reflected on homeowners’ property tax bills, was approved by voters via referendum in April 2017. The debt from the $15 million bond issue is being serviced through the school district’s cash reserves.

Bob Uphues