By Bob Uphues
Komarek School officials will begin their public rollout of options for renovating the campus with a series of community focus group meetings over the next two weeks. The meetings are designed to give the school board and administration feedback that will lead to a final design concept, which will be approved next month.
School board members are expected to vote to approve a referendum question at a special meeting on Dec. 17 at 7 p.m. at the school, 8940 24th St. in North Riverside, which will set the maximum amount for a bond issuance that would pay for the improvements.
But before that vote, school officials will host five focus group meetings in North Riverside and Broadview, with the first two slated for Tuesday, Dec. 3. Komarek School District 94 Superintendent Brian Ganan said that its architect from Arcon Associates Inc. will walk attendees through two renovation options that have been selected by a steering committee of some 28 people.
"I wanted to bring as many people on board as possible, and to have as many perspectives," said Ganan, who added that the steering committee for the failed referendum push last spring was about half the size.
Ganan said he wanted to reach out and include people who voted no to issuing $22 million in bonds for a comprehensive makeover of the campus.
"I wanted them to feel welcome as well," Ganan said.
A representative from the school district's financial advisor, Baird, will also lay out how a successful referendum might impact property owners within the school district's boundaries, which include North Riverside west of First Avenue and Broadview south of 19th Street.
All of the presentations will be identical, two of them will be livestreamed on Facebook and one of them, on Dec. 10, will be translated into Spanish (see sidebar).
"We're trying to give everyone an opportunity to be there," said Ganan.
While district officials have not unveiled the two concepts, they appear to differ significantly from the plan school officials pitched last spring. The costs for each is unclear at this time, but are likely to be addressed at the focus group sessions.
"I really want people to come to the meetings and hear the information before making up their minds," Ganan said.
The steering committee at its last meeting on Nov. 11 settled on a pair of options to be presented at the community meetings next month.
The first leaves the existing buildings intact and addresses long-term maintenance and life-safety issues as well as replacing outdated and obsolete mechanical systems and equipment.
The second option salvages the west building and the existing gymnasium in the east building.
The plan that was defeated soundly by voters last April had contemplated demolishing the east building and replacing it with a new gym and a new parking lot. The west building was to have been expanded and a new, larger sky deck connecting the two buildings would have housed the school library.
Both of the new options to be rolled out next month retain the old gym and scrap the idea of a sky-bridge library, said Ganan.
"The two objectives of the steering committee were to prioritize the important needs of the building and bring the cost down," said Ganan. "We feel like [the new plan] is very responsive."
Meanwhile, Ganan said that he still is hopeful the school district might be able to receive some capital funding from the state of Illinois. Ganan indicated he's already contacted state Rep. LaShawn Ford (D-Chicago), whose 8th District includes Komarek School.
Meanwhile, Ganan says he also plans to approach the school district's state senator, Kimberly Lightford (D-Maywood), who appears to be the front-runner for Senate president when Sen. Tom Cullerton retires in January.
Lightford was supportive of the Komarek referendum push last spring, sponsoring legislation that would have allowed the school district to exceed its debt limit to issue the bonds required for funding construction.
"Our children deserve a learning environment that fosters growth and creativity, and I commend Komarek School for wanting to provide that for their students," Lightford said at the time.