After a wait of more than two years, construction to comprehensively make over the campus of Komarek School in North Riverside is just a few months away.

On Jan. 11, the Development Committee of the North Riverside Village Board appeared enthusiastic about the project, which would have the village vacate a portion of 13th Avenue in order to completely close the interior of the campus to vehicular traffic. Right now the street is closed to traffic only during school hours.

While the village board’s reaction last week did not carry any official weight, it did give school officials an indication that the plan is unlikely to receive significant pushback from village government.

 School officials and architects from Arcon Associates Inc. have met with Village Planner Robert Kallien and are poised to submit a formal planned unit development application within the next couple of weeks.

The next step will be convening a public hearing before the North Riverside Planning and Zoning Commission, where school officials will make their formal pitch and field any questions or concerns from neighboring residents and others who might want to provide input on the plan.

The Planning and Zoning Commission will then make its recommendation to the village board, which will have the final say on whether the school district gets the go-ahead to move ahead with construction.

“They expressed an interest in getting [the plan approval] done before the election,” said Kallien, referring to the April 6 Consolidated Election, in which voters will choose a mayor and three trustees.

“The biggest thing with COVID is it’s difficult to hold a public hearing, so we’ll have to figure out a way to make that work,” Kallien said.

Under normal circumstances the biggest hurdle to a plan such as that being presented by the school district would be the vacation of the street. However, after trustees appeared amenable to that on Jan. 11, it appears that might not be such a sticking point after all.

“If the board is comfortable with that, the rest of the issues should be easily resolved,” Kallien said.

Those other issues involve zoning allowances for floor area ratio, building setbacks, parking and green space. Part of the plan includes creating a pickup/drop-off lane in the public parkway along the north side of 24th Street, near what will become the new main entrance to the school, west of 13th Avenue.

Komarek Superintendent Todd Fitzgerald told the Landmark that if all goes smoothly, the school district plans to put the project out to bid in March and to break ground on the first phase of the work in late May or early June.

The school district is funding the project through a $22 million bond issue, approved by voters in March 2020. Fitzgerald said the school district, with the support of state Rep. LaShawn Ford (D-8th), is also applying for a $1.5 million grant from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.

Komarek School Co-Principal Caitlin DiLallo, said Fitzgerald is coordinating the creation of a school grant committee to seek other funding sources for certain aspects of the project, like landscaping and furnishings.

Built in phases

The construction is expected to take two full years to complete and will be done in phases to limit disruption to instruction as much as possible, Fitzgerald said. The completely overhauled campus will be ready for its first full school year in the fall of 2023.

The project will involve building a two-story addition, with a full basement level, to the existing building west of 13th Avenue and completely renovating the existing building to include all new mechanical, electrical, plumbing systems.

Meanwhile, about half of the building east of 13th Avenue will be demolished to create room for an onsite 64-space parking lot at the east end of the campus. The existing gymnasium will remain as will the superintendent’s offices. 

The base bid package calls for a small addition to be built to house an elevator, giving the buildings elevator access on both sides of 13th Avenue.

Alternate options include constructing a new gymnasium addition to the east building and installing playground amenities to the vacated area of 13th Avenue, such as rubberized play surfaces. All of that, however, will depend on how competitive bids are.

“The goal of the project is to make sure the infrastructure of the buildings are getting the attention they need,” Fitzgerald said. “As we’re looking at the budget, that’s the number-one priority. Once we check those boxes that will help us determine what 13th Avenue looks like.”

The first phase of construction will be the construction of the west building addition, said Fitzgerald. Once that is completed, Phase 2 will have students and teachers from the old west building moving into the new wing in order to completely renovate the old building.

Once the new, fully integrated west building is complete, Phase 3 will include all classrooms being relocated to their new homes west of 13th Avenue, allowing demolition and renovations to begin on the east building.

All elective classes – STEM, music, art and industrial arts – will be housed in the lower level of the west building. Pre-K and kindergarten will be located near one another on the first floor of the west building, where other elementary grades will be located.

Middle school classrooms will primarily be on the second floor of the west building, according to Fitzgerald.

“There’s going to be ample space to house all teachers and students [in the west building],” Fitzgerald said. “The key to providing what students need is a lot of collaboration and strong communication. 

“Teachers have been involved in conversations with architects about all of our spaces, and they’ve been helpful in providing suggestions and feedback to optimize learning spaces for students.