Last week the Riverside Elementary School District 96 Board of Education quickly coalesced around a design to build a 14,000-square-foot, two-story addition to the back of Ames School that is estimated to cost between $8.28 and $9 million. 

The design was one of four alternatives presented to the school board on Jan. 16. Board members preferred this design because it includes three pre-kindergarten classrooms that would allow the district to move its pre-kindergarten program from Blythe Park School to Ames, doesn’t alter the front of Ames School and adds extensive green space, including a large soft-surface playground to the northeast of the school on land the district purchased in 2016.

“It really is the whole package we were looking for,” said Ames Principal Todd Gierman, who served on the district’s facility advisory committee, which recommended this option of the four presented to the board.

Board member David Barsotti said that this option was clear choice.

“It solves all of our problems,” Barsotti said.

The plan also includes renovating 3,700 square feet of the existing building and expanding onsite parking from 30 to 44 parking spaces. 

The pre-kindergarten program would be housed in the first-story of the addition at the northeast corner of the school. The area would have a separate pick-up and drop-off spot, which board members liked.

The addition would also include a new 2,300-square-foot multipurpose room, two large flexible group learning spaces, a new 1,900-square-foot library on the second floor, two new regular classrooms in addition to the three new pre-K classrooms, and three new second-floor learning spaces for small groups.

The plan also includes separate renovated art and music rooms. The 1,000-square-foot music room would have two separate 200-square-foot practice rooms next to it. One existing classroom would also be renovated.

Rich Regan, who along with Lynda Murphy served as the school board representatives on the facility advisory committee, reminded board members that the design is still conceptual in nature and said cost estimates could change as more detailed plans are developed.

“It could be less expensive than what we’re representing here; it could be more expensive,” Regan said. “It’s really a factor of what kind of finishes we want in these spaces, what are our needs as a district in each of these spaces.”

District officials and board members are keen to move the pre-K early learners program to Ames School, because that would allow them to gradually turn Blythe Park School into a two-section school. 

Blythe Park has, at present, only one section on each grade except for kindergarten. Making Blythe Park a two-section school would reduce enrollment at Central School and would also bring educational benefits to Blythe Park students, district officials believe.

Architect Carrie Matlock presented the board with four options for expanding Ames School. The option the board is backing is the second most expensive option. 

The first two options would not have permitted the district to move the pre-K program to Ames School. The first option, which was estimated to cost between $4.7 and $5.1 million, called for a one-story 5,150-square-foot addition to the back of Ames, housing a new library, a new multipurpose room, a large group learning space and a small group learning space.

The second option, which was estimated to cost between $6.28 to $6.8 million, would have added a second story to the addition outlined in the first option and also add three new classrooms including a new art room. That addition would have been 8,900 square feet and would have included 52 parking spaces.

The most expensive option presented to the board would have included additions to both the front and back of Ames, costing between $9.9 and 10.7 million. An 18,200-square-foot addition would have housed a pre-K wing attached to the east side of the existing building. 

It would have included three new regular classrooms, a new library, a new multipurpose room, renovated art and music rooms. This option called for 23 diagonal parking places in front of Ames, a feature that board members thought would make village approval of the plan difficult. 

Board members also didn’t like the idea of adding on to the front of Ames and thought this option took up too space and didn’t allow enough green space. 

“In Option 3 [the board’s choice] you’ve got a huge contiguous area playground which is really very attractive,” said school board President Jeff Miller.

Board member Shari Klyber also liked the third option, especially because it does not alter the front of the school.

 “I like that it doesn’t change the original facade,” Klyber said of option that the board backed. “I think it keeps it more in the Riverside tradition without having diagonal [parking] spaces in the front. The play looks great to me. I think we need some natural space that’s consistent, so that you’re not kind of funneling children around in these narrow spaces.”

The district plans to pay for the addition to Ames out of its abundant cash reserves.

The school board took no formal action last week opting to wait to get community feedback, but it was clear that, after months of study, the board has found a plan that it likes.

Work on the Ames addition is not expected to begin until 2020.

Ames School Plan by wednesdayjournal on Scribd