Blythe Park School, 735 Leesley Rd., Riverside (FILE)

Just one year after building a small addition to Blythe Park School to add an additional classroom, officials in Riverside Elementary School District 96 are considering whether to put another addition on the architecturally significant school, which has local landmark status.

At its July 21 meeting, the District 96 school board approved a memorandum of understanding with its architects to pay them up to $5,000 to see whether the Riverside Preservation Commission would be amenable to another addition at Blythe Park. Any changes to the exterior of Blythe Park School must be vetted by the commission and approved by the village board.

District 96 is gradually making Blythe Park School into a two-section school, and officials would like to add another classroom or multipurpose room. Blythe Park, which serves students in kindergarten through first grade, has 12 classrooms. 

Next year there will be two sections in kindergarten, first, second, and third grades and one section each of fourth and fifth grade. Two sections of each grade would require 12 classrooms if the district moves to full day kindergarten in the future, and District 96 administrators would like to have dedicated classroom space for art classes or perhaps special or advanced education. 

An additional classroom would give the school more flexibility, District 96 Superintendent Martha Ryan-Toye said. 

The other idea District 96 has been considering is turning the Blythe Park’s lower-level auditorium into a multipurpose room or dividing it into two learning spaces. That was the direction the district had seemed headed in, but architects and district officials have since realized that redoing the auditorium would probably also require altering the exterior of the building, changing windows at least.

“The other idea would be to renovate the auditorium potentially from the inside, which would have less impact on historic preservation,” Ryan-Toye said. 

Ryan-Toye said the school district wants to find out if the Preservation Commission would be open to any kind of addition at Blythe Park.

“We have to find out what sort of parameters they would allow us to work within,” Ryan-Toye said.

If an addition was allowed, it could be on the north end of the school. An 800-square-foot addition built last year on the south end of the school, is being used as a first-grade classroom. The addition was built with a composite oak paneling sets it apart from the red brick exterior of the rest of the school but references wood paneling inside the building.

Ryan-Toye said the Preservation Commission was good to work with in planning last year’s addition. 

“They were actually really good partners when we did the other project,” Ryan-Toye said. “I think it took them awhile and there were some disagreements, but I think when all was said and done they were very supportive.”

Riverside Preservation Commission Chairman Charles Pipal said the commission would look at whatever District 96 presents to them.

“We look at every application we get and we weigh the application based on the Secretary of the Interior standards for rehabilitation,” Pipal said.

Blythe Park School was built in the late 1940s and designed by the renowned Perkins and Will architectural firm. With a low-slung exterior, large windows that let in a lot of natural light and a flowing floor plan, the school is considered a masterpiece of mid-century modern design.