After nearly three years of study and planning, the final plans for the expansion of the elementary schools in Riverside Elementary School District 96 were revealed last week at a meeting of the District 96 school board. 

The designs will add some modern elements, such as large windows, to Ames and Hollywood schools, but also retain the existing character of the school buildings. The district hopes to complete all the work next year.

The biggest project is at Ames School, where an 18,000-square-foot, two-story addition will be built at the northwest corner of the school. 

“We wanted to do it in a way that was sympathetic to the existing architecture,” said architect Ryan Kelly at the school board’s Dec. 4 meeting.

All this building will not come cheap. Since bids are now just going out, the precise cost of the additions is not yet known. But District 96 Director of Finance and Operations Jim Fitton is projecting total construction costs to be about $15.4 million. 

When payments to the architects and other professional fees and the cost of furniture, playground equipment, environmental remediation and land acquisition are included, the total cost is projected to be around $19 million.

The district is planning to pay for all the work from its cash reserves and not borrow any money. This is possible because the district currently has cash reserves of about $34 million.

“We are taking on a significant project, we’re spending a significant amount of money and we’re not going to referendum,” said school board member David Barsotti. “I don’t think any school district that I know of in Illinois, or possibly the nation, has taken on this kind of project without debt or referendum.”

District 96 currently is carrying only about $3.3 million in debt that remains from the debt certificates issued to pay for the internal renovations at the district’s schools in 2012 and 2013. That remaining debt is due to be completely paid off in three years. 

Because District 96 did not have any outstanding debt when the property tax cap law was passed, it cannot levy a separate tax to pay off debt. So, any debt the district issues must be paid off with its operating funds.

After paying for all the construction work next summer, the district’s cash reserves are projected to be about $15.2 million which is still more than 50 percent of annual operating expenditures.


Major addition at Ames

This will be the first addition at Ames in more than a half century. The central portion of Ames was built in 1924 and the two wings were added in 1968. 

The new addition will include a library, a multipurpose room and eight small-group learning spaces, which will give specialists room to work with students privately instead of working with them in the hallway, as they do now. 

The district’s pre-kindergarten program will also be moving to Ames School, which will open up space to make Blythe Park School a two-section school. Three classrooms and a learning hub in the addition will be devoted to the early learning center, which will have a separate pickup and drop-off space. 

The present library will be turned into a classroom with an adjacent small-group learning space. Ames will also get an elevator, as will Central School.

The district purchased two homes, one of Repton Road and one on Loudon Road, to create the space for the Ames addition and a new playground area separate from the parking lot. 

The new playground will be east of the school, where the house on Repton once stood. Separating play from parking has been a major goal of district leaders. The house at 443 Loudon Road, which the district purchased earlier this year, will be demolished next month.

The design for the Ames addition calls for using brick similar in color to original, and the word “Ames” will be spelled out in specialty brick on one exterior wall as a way to build school pride. That idea came from student focus groups, Kelly said. 

At the district’s other elementary schools, where offices will be moved to new locations, the name of the school will appear in large letters on a wall in the school office.

Advanced learners at Ames will have their own classroom for the first time and there will be adequate space to accommodate full-day kindergarten should the district ever decide to add that. 

“The idea was to create flexibility,” Kelly said.


New classroom for Blythe

Blythe Park School will get a new classroom that will be added to the back of the school and a new secure entry vestibule will be built in front while the office is moved across the hall to be next to the entry vestibule. 

The exterior of the new classroom will be built of a new wood composite that will look similar in color to the existing brick. Since Blythe Park School is a designated local landmark and considered a masterpiece of mid-century school design, changes there had to be approved by the Riverside Historical Preservation Commission, which worked with the district’s architects do come up with a suitable design. 

Using the wood composite allows the additional classroom to blend with the existing brick exterior of Blythe Park School, while creating an addition that’s distinct from the late 1940s design.

“I never would have expected the wood paneling and siding on the exterior, and I think it’s great,” said school board member Lynda Murphy. “It’s kind of unexpected but yet you look at it, and it looks like Blythe.”

The new classroom, plus the departure of the early learning program, will allow Blythe Park to evolve into a two-section school with half-day kindergarten.

Multipurpose room for Hollywood 

At Hollywood School, a striking new multipurpose room with a glass wall will be added to the back of the school and the school office will be moved closer to the main entrance. 

The new multipurpose room will be used for lunch, music classes, indoor recess and as a space for the entire school to congregate. 

Currently, Hollywood students eat lunch in the school’s gym. The multipurpose room will cut into Hollywood’s parking lot and can only be built if the district is able to reach agreement with Hollywood Citizen’s Association and/or the village of Brookfield to find parking to replace spaces that would be lost with the addition, District 96 Superintendent Martha Ryan-Toye said.


Lower level redo at Central

The renovations at Central School will be mostly on the inside, apart from the building of a secure entrance vestibule and the creation of a wheelchair-accessible ramp to the lower-level entrance. 

A new multipurpose room which will be used for lunch will be created from the former district offices located in the basement of the building. Currently, Central students eat lunch in the Hauser Junior High cafeteria. 

Moving Central students out of the Hauser cafeteria could allow the junior high to start school a little later in the morning, a goal of some school board members. An elevator will also be installed in the Central School courtyard.