As Riverside School District 96 closes in on final plans for improvements to its elementary school buildings, a parallel exercise will begin to develop plans to improve the rear outdoor area of the Central School/Hauser Junior High campus to better separate parking and play areas and manage internal traffic patterns.

On June 26, the District 96 Board of Education voted unanimously to hire The Lakota Group and Gewalt Hamilton Design to prepare a comprehensive campus plan at Central/Hauser.

The three-phase process likely will begin in the fall and take months. It will include analyzing existing conditions, conducting a traffic study, looking at crash reports and studying parking and student pickup/drop-off patterns.

Throughout the process the consultants will seek public input, engage in mapping exercises and then take all of the information to design a concept plan that addresses recreation areas, outdoor learning spaces, parking, pickup/drop-off zones, landscaping, signage and more.

“For us, it’s beyond traffic on the perimeter,” said District 96 Superintendent Martha Ryan-Toye. “We want the best understanding of how to use interior [campus] spaces. … I’m optimistic there are unique configurations we haven’t thought of yet.”

District 96 will pay about $59,000 for the study. Ryan-Toye said that any improvements identified by the study likely would not be implemented until 2021-22 at the earliest, after building improvements are completed at Central School.

The large, almost 100,000-square-foot open area behind Central School and Hauser Junior High includes about 40,000 square feet of grass play area in the northwest corner. The rest is an L-shaped asphalt parking lot that wraps around two sides of the turf field.

In addition to parking spaces, the parking area has pavement markings for four square for ball fields and track events. The area sees heavy traffic – including vehicles, bikes and pedestrians — before and after school during drop-off and pickup times.

During the school day, middle school gym classes take place at the same time elementary school kids are at recess. A goal of the study is recommendations for separating play and parking areas and clearly delineating walkways.

With school district officials focusing a lot of energy on the interior improvements and additions to the elementary schools, including Central School, some members of the school board wondered if The Lakota Group/Gewalt study should be delayed.

Board member Jeff Miller expressed some concern that officials might not be able to devote enough attention to the Central/Hauser campus plan.

“I’m a little bit concerned that if we start this parallel process right now, given all the other things the administration has to think about, they may not be able to devote sufficient time to the questions that will arise in this context,” Miller said.

But, Ryan-Toye said she was confident the two initiatives could coexist and that they complemented each other.

“I do think it’s doable simultaneously,” Ryan-Toye said.

Board member Lynda Murphy said she favored moving ahead with the study, since it would take months to complete and would only further delay any future solutions by waiting another year for construction projects to get going.

Moreover, said Murphy, the first phase of the study largely would be the analysis performed by the consultants. The more public engagement would come later.

“They’re going to be taking months to study the campus, and to have that information now as we move forward in the next few years is going to be the most helpful,” Murphy said. “I don’t want to have to wait another year.”