District 95 facilities forum draws a crowd

Two more sessions planned for the fall

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By BOB UPHUES

When Brookfield-LaGrange Park School District 95 offered voters the opportunity to attend community forums about a proposed tax increase last winter, there just wasn't a whole lot of interest.

But last Thursday night, at the first of three community forums about the creation of a master facilities plan for the district, it was a different story. Approximately 70 people, including school staff, administrators, village officials, parents and other community members, packed the second floor conference room at S.E. Gross Middle School in Brookfield.

"The turnout blew away my expectations," said District 95 school board President James Landahl. "I think there's definitely a huge interest in regard to the direction of the facilities, and people are still fact finding."

While the session was not meant to provide an action plan, those who attended did get a state-of-the-buildings presentation by Alan Armbrust, vice president of FGM Architects, which was hired by the District 95 board to lead the strategic facilities planning effort. Participants also got to discuss among themselves just how they envisioned the future needs for delivering education in the future.

"It was a very comprehensive, informative presentation that outlined more problems than I had considered," said Brookfield resident Charles Straka, who has had two children graduate from the district, with three more to go.

"I knew this was going to cost a lot of money and may be controversial, but I knew it had to be done."

According to Armbrust, the goal of the final master plan will be to make sure the district's two buildings will be able to serve students and teachers over the long haul. However, that did not mean, he added, that the district was looking at extravagant improvements.

"The goal here is to get you in a sustainable state," Armbrust said. "Don't misinterpret that the boards have been bad stewards. They have taken care of big-picture issues, like the roof. At the same time, they've deferred a lot of maintenance, things like electrical wiring, plumbing, bathroom stalls."

Beyond those issues, Armbrust and colleagues from FGM Architects spotlighted such concerns as traffic flow (specifically drop-off and pick-up patterns) around both schools. They also showed participants the result of doing things at both schools out of sheer necessity?"offices turned into classrooms, storage spaces turned into offices, cramped speech and nurse's offices.

Consultants pointed to safety concerns at both schools, from a hallway that was a little over 4 feet wide at Brook Park School to a lack of fire alarms and signals at Gross School. Some of those safety issues will have to be addressed in the district's 10-year life safety survey, which is required by the State of Illinois.

"The whole point of this is to maximize the resources you already have," Armbrust said. "We don't want to do something now that we will have to undo because of a logical change down the line."

After breaking into smaller groups, participants tossed out ideas answering questions relating to future educational needs?"What will students look like in the 21st century? What will learning spaces look like in the 21st century? What are the goals for students?

Participants identified several common themes, including the need to create flexible spaces for teaching different subjects, accommodating space for special needs (whether it was classroom space for English as a Second Language or special education), integrating technology and addressing building security.

All of those aspects will be taken into account by the consultants as the master planning process continues.

"This community is very important to me. I want it to continue to improve," said Brookfield resident Shari Bongiorno, a teacher's aide at Brook Park School. "The architects brought up a lot of points I wasn't aware of, and some were a bit upsetting. I'm not looking for the Taj Mahal, but it would be nice to keep current."

The next community forum is scheduled for Monday, Oct. 24 in the gymnasium at Brook Park School from 7 to 8:30 p.m.

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