By Bob Skolnik
The Riverside Elementary School District 96 Board of Education is getting ready to finalize plans for the renovation of Blythe Park School and Hollywood School next summer.
Last week architect Mark Miller led school board members, a few staffers and parents on tours of the two schools as board members consider choices that must be made for renovations that are expected to cost around $7.4 million.
The biggest issue for the school board to decide is whether to relocate the principal's office at Hollywood School in Brookfield. The decision takes on greater importance in the wake of the last weekend's massacre of 20 students and six staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
One option being considered is moving the principal's office to the location of the current fourth-grade classroom, which is closer to the original main entrance of the school. Currently, the small and cramped principal's office is farther from that entrance. Administrative staff members do not have a direct view of the entrances to the school.
"We need to explore any option that would allow for a higher level of security and watchfulness on egress into the building when people are being buzzed in, who's being buzzed in and where they go, and the current location does not accomplish that," said District 96 Superintendent Jonathan Lamberson said last week in comments made before the Sandy Hook shooting. "Another option is keeping it where it's at and moving it a little farther to the north so that the secretary could actually look up and see the front door."
Former Hollywood School PTA President Jennifer Perry went on the Hollywood School tour and is strongly opposed to moving the principal's office to the current location of the fourth-grade classroom. That location is farther from the entrance by the gym that most students and others use to enter the school, Perry said on Monday.
"The current proposal could make security weaker," said Perry, who is married to District 96 school board Vice President Art Perry. "There would be no direct oversight of the main entrance, which is mostly glass. Somebody could blast their way through the glass, which is what happened on Friday at Sandy Hook, enter the building and make a left turn and have access to five classrooms and the office wouldn't necessarily be even aware of what's going on, because they would be so far away from the main entrance."
Moving the office to the location of the fourth-grade classroom on the southwest end of the building would cost about $333,186, according to estimates provided by the architect. Cost will be a factor in the decision what to do with the office.
"It's going to come down to cost, the financial implications and the best use of the space," District 96 school board President Mary Ellen Meindl said on Friday before the extent of the Sandy Hook tragedy was known. "If the office is moved, that affects the library and the fourth-grade classroom. We've directed the architects to give us both options."
At Blythe Park School in Riverside the office won't be moved, but it will be reconfigured to boost security.
"The office will be reconfigured in terms of its layout to allow the secretary to actually visually see the front door," Lamberson said.
The Blythe Park basement, which is currently used only for storage apart from the auditorium, will be renovated so that it can be transformed into usable space suitable for classrooms or offices, if necessary. Low-hanging pipes will be removed as part of upgrading basic systems at the school.
"Now is the time. It's never going to be less expensive," Lamberson said. "Now's the time to convert the space downstairs in the event we ever needed it for instructional space. … The only thing they would have to do is put a chairlift in to make it handicapped-accessible."
District offices, either the special education office or even possibly the main district administrative headquarters could possibly move to the Blythe Park basement.
"We're making the basement usable so that we have options," Meindl said.
If enrollment in the district continues to grow, Blythe Park could become a two-section school. That would require three additional classrooms.
"The next few years will tell us whether our enrollment trend is still increasing or if it's going to steady or if it's going to decrease," Meindl said. "There's no reason to make Blythe Park a two-section school if we are staying the same or our enrollment is decreasing. What we do need is the ability to bring the district office back on campus."
The multipurpose room at Blythe Park, which also currently serves as the lunchroom, will stay as it is but will also be prepared so that it can be converted into classrooms, if needed.
"I do not envision that space being needed as a classroom for several more years, depending on what happens with enrollment, as well as boundary changes or any of the discussions regarding that issue," Lamberson said.
The school board expects to make final decisions about the renovations at Blythe Park and Hollywood Schools at its January meeting. The work will be done next summer.