Students begin to file into the school on Aug. 31, 2022, before the first day of school at Komarek Elementary School in North Riverside. (Alex Rogals/Staff Photographer)

When students and teachers returned to Komarek School last week and saw the newly renovated west wing, they could be forgiven for wondering if it was the same old building.

The leaky, creaky, well-worn — some might say rundown — building has been transformed. A new addition to the south, which was completed last spring, seamlessly flows into the old west wing of the school, which was completely renovated over the summer.

“It makes me feel like I go to a different school,” said Komarek seventh-grader Jonathan Garcia after touring the transformed school at an open house on Aug. 30, the evening before the first day of school.

Eighth-grader Lucas Williams was equally impressed by the sleek, modern look of the school.

“I think it looks like a high school building now,” he said. “It has fancy clocks.”

Lucas’ sister Mackenzie, a sixth-grader, had a more prosaic reaction.

“At least it’s not leaking water on the roof anymore,” she said.

Teachers were equally impressed with the new building, which was made possible when voters passed a $20.8 million bond referendum in 2020. The work is not completely finished because a new gym is yet to be built east of 13th Avenue. But teachers loved their spacious updated classrooms, larger than the old classrooms.

The look is contemporary. The school is bathed in a contemporary gray and light blue color scheme. Flooring is a mix of luxury vinyl tile and carpeting. Primary grade classroom floors are half-vinyl and half-carpet while junior high classrooms are generally all carpet. Classrooms have LED lighting and exposed ceilings that give them an open, airy feel. Desks and chairs are also sleek and modern.

“The new flooring, new paint, just the overall feel of the building is much more upscale,” said fourth-grade teacher Nicole Truesdale, who is starting her eighth year teaching at Komarek. “I think everyone’s more excited to come to school and learn in a renovated building.”

Truesdale likes the color scheme. 

“It’s very calming; blues and grays are good for learning,” Truesdale said. “I was in a bright yellow room before, so this is really nice to walk into.”

It’s not a surprise that teachers like the new look. 

“The teachers did have a good amount of input as to how these new rooms would look,” Truesdale said.

Every classroom now has a large flat-screen monitor mounted up front and new, state-of-the-art white boards.

“We’ll be able to mirror our MacBooks right onto the screen,” Truesdale said.

Junior high social studies teacher Chris Bedalow believes the new, more spacious classrooms and upgraded technology will make a big difference in what teachers and students can do.

“To be able to have this type of space to learn in is just going to be a game-changer for us,” said Bedalow, starting his 24th year teaching at Komarek. “It’s been long overdue for us to have a learning space like this. I’m just so grateful to the community for giving us this opportunity.”

One big change is that the school is now fully air-conditioned as the entire heating and AC system has been replaced. Previously, only the library, the computer room and offices had it. Teachers say that will help a lot at the beginning and end of the school year.

“It’s going to make a big difference,” Bedalow said. “Thinking back the last couple Augusts and Septembers, I mean, it’s been 90 degrees. There were a few days with 100 degrees. Having kids focus and learn, it was hard to get going in that type of environment.”

Wider hallways mean that, for the first time, Komarek third- through eighth-graders will have hallway lockers instead of having to carry everything from class to class. Younger students will have individual cubbies rather than just coat racks.

The building is two full floors plus a full-size basement where a spacious, open cafeteria and classrooms for elective classes are located. The cafeteria features round tables in the middle and some booth-like seating on one side. Basement rooms still get some natural light from strategically placed windows. There is a band room and an additional music room, plus two music practice rooms there as well

The old east wing of the school is still standing, but part of that will be knocked down this year and a new gym built, expected to be completed by April. The current gym will remain, giving the school two. 

Some administrative offices are still located in the east wing, but 13th Avenue, which runs between the two wings of the school, is now closed to traffic. It will serve as the school’s playground. Once much of the east wing is demolished, more parking will be added near 12th Avenue.

Komarek Superintendent Todd Fitzgerald believes, “Students are going to have a more enriching experience because of the space. The community deserves it. They made a decision to invest in our students. We are thrilled to have these new facilities and very thankful to the residents of North Riverside and Broadview for supporting the referendum in 2020.”