The Riverside Elementary School District 96 Board of Education has given a cool reception to the four conceptual drawings for an addition to Ames School that its architect presented to the board last month.

Most board members thought that at least two of the four conceptual drawings submitted by the architect far exceeded what the board is willing to spend and would provide Ames with amenities, such as a large gym, that the district’s other three elementary schools don’t have.

“The plans that were presented were not addressing the true district needs, I think,” said school board President Jeff Miller. “Whatever we do at one school we have to be consistent and do, obviously in a scaled way, across the district.”

Miller said that each school in the district has space issues and the board does not want to spend all its money on Ames.

“I think there’s a consensus that we need some extra capacity at each school,” Miller said. “I don’t think we really need to double, or more than double, the size of Ames.”

Board members say that they can spend about $15 million and still keep their reserves at a level they are comfortable with, but they don’t want to spend all of that money on Ames.

The conceptual drawings presented by the architect last month came with a very rough preliminary cost estimate, ranging from about $8.5 million to around $15 million. Board members have shown little interest in borrowing money for construction when the district is sitting on reserves of approximately $30 million.

The board knows that Ames needs to be enlarged with a couple new classrooms and a new multipurpose room. Ames students each lunch in the gym and the school’s former multipurpose room has been split into two separate classrooms, one for music and one for art.

“I think everyone agrees that we need to add some additional capacity at Ames,” Miller said.

But Miller said a large gym and several new large learning spaces that are not classrooms was just not realistic.

Board members Rich Regan and Lynda Murphy, who lead the district’s facilities advisory committee, were directed to review the district’s space priorities and rank them to give the architects clearer direction.

“I really think the board’s direction was we have to go back to basics here and look at what’s necessary,” Miller said. “If we’re going to do something more ambitious at Ames, then it would have to address some of the problems we identified at other schools, like preschool.”

Board members would like the architect to present a plan that would allow the district to perhaps shift its preschool to Ames School from Blythe Park School. That would open up additional classrooms at Blythe Park and perhaps allow it to house two sections per grade.

The board is also considering moving the district’s administrative offices out of the Hauser/Central School campus, perhaps moving it to Ames or somewhere else to open up additional space at Hauser or Central.

“If we’re going to do something really ambitious at [Ames] it would have to incorporate some of the pressing needs that exist across the entire district,” Miller said. “We want the architect to come up with the most efficient, cost-effective options.”

Board members also were unhappy with some unexpected additional expenses connected with the demolition of the house at 92 Repton House, which the district purchased to allow expansion at Ames. 

The village of Riverside is requiring the district to restore a curb that was cut for the house’s driveway at an estimated cost of about $4,900. The village has indicated that they would not require that work to be done immediately which would give the district time to rebid the work, according to school board member Joel Marhoul, who also serves on the Riverside Planning and Zoning Commission. 

The village is also requiring the district to remove sewer lines all the way out to Repton Road at an estimated cost of about $10,000. 

School board members were already upset that demolition of the home cost about $87,000. Board members’ ire was directed at the district’s architectural firm, DLA Architects, for not anticipating these expenses.

“We need the architect to be talking more with the village,” said Miller at the board’s Aug. 15 meeting.

Given the cool reception to DLA’s conceptual drawings and the unanticipated extra costs of the house demolition, DLA appears to be on shaky ground with some board members.

“This board should be considering other options for future projects,” Regan said at the Aug. 15 meeting.