By Bob Skolnik
On the heels of considering plans for an addition to Ames School, the Riverside Elementary District 96 school board got a first glimpse at plans to improve its other three elementary schools.
More secure entrances, new multipurpose rooms and an increase in flexible learning spaces are the key ingredients of the plans for Blythe Park, Central, and Hollywood schools, unveiled at the school board's Feb. 6 committee of the whole meeting.
Superintendent Martha Ryan Toye said she expected the board to decide on final plans by the end of the school year.
The plans came out of an exhaustive review of the district's facilities over the past year by the district's facility advisory committee working with the district's architect, Carrie Matlock. The recommended work at the three schools is estimated to cost nearly $8 million based on preliminary plans.
"We are looking at the numbers from 10,000 feet," said Ramesh Nair of Vistara Construction Services, who the district has hired to help manage the project. "This is an estimate. We are confident that the numbers we presented are good numbers to start with."
That's on top of an estimated $8 to $9 million for a proposed addition and renovations at Ames School.
Nair has worked for the district before, serving as its owner's representative in 2013 and overseeing work at Blythe Park, Hollywood and Hauser.
The facility advisory committee recommended moving the main office at each school to right next to the main entrance to create secure vestibules, making small additions at Blythe Park and Hollywood, adding an elevator to Central School and renovating the lower level at Central which now houses the district's administrative offices.
District administrators will be moving into the former Texor Building on Harlem Avenue. The district closed that $600,000 purchase on Feb. 4.
Work is not expected to begin on any of the schools until the summer of 2020.
At Blythe Park School the recommended plan calls for adding 1,800 square feet and renovating 5,400 square feet at an estimated cost of $2.2 million.
A new vestibule and reception area would be built in the alcove of the current main entrance so that someone would have to go through two doors to get inside the main portion of the school.
The main office area would move across the hall next to a new reception area, trading places with a classroom. A new classroom would be built in the back of the alcove. The new classroom, combined with moving the district's early learning program to Ames School, would allow Blythe Park to house two sections per grade.
The Blythe Park auditorium would be converted into a multipurpose room where music classes could be held, although the stage and performance area would remain. The pitch of the auditorium floor would be levelled and the auditorium chairs would be removed to make the space more flexible.
"The idea is not to take away the auditorium, but to create a more versatile space," said board member Lynda Murphy, a member of the facility advisory committee.
At Central School, about 8,000 square feet would be renovated with the most of the work being done on the lower level. The Central School improvements are estimated to cost about $3.5 million.
A new large multipurpose room would be constructed where the current district administrative offices are now. Central students would eat lunch in the new multipurpose room instead of eating lunch in the Hauser cafeteria as they do now.
An elevator would be installed in the Central School courtyard, helping the school become more accessible to those with physical handicaps. Central has lots of stairs and is not easy to get around for those who cannot walk. The elevator would make about 33 percent of Central School handicapped-accessible, Matlock estimated.
The drawings presented at the meeting called for the Central office to trade places with Room 104, a fifth-grade classroom. This would put the office right next to the main entrance, allowing for a secure vestibule at the entrance and giving office staff a good view of who is approaching the building from Woodside Road.
Board member Shari Klyber questioned whether it would be wise, or popular, to eliminate one of the most beautiful classrooms in the school and instead suggested moving the office to the garden level, near the handicapped accessible entrance. Board members Joel Marhoul, Rich Regan, and board president Jeff Miller liked Klyber's idea.
"That room is a very nice room, lot of natural sunlight, perfect room for students," Miller said of Room 104. "In my view we should be giving the best rooms in the building to the students and not to the staff, all else being equal," Miller said.
Miller also said that security cameras could still give staff in a lower-level main office a good view of the street and the approach to the school.
The recommended plan for Hollywood calls for a building a 2,500 square foot addition at the rear of the building and renovating another 2,000 square feet for a total estimated cost of $2.2 million.
The addition would consist of a new 1,100 square foot multipurpose room and three small group learning spaces that could be used to provide specialized services. Currently the school psychologist has her office on the Hollywood gym stage and some small groups have to get instruction is the hallway. Hollywood students would eat lunch in the new multipurpose room instead of in the gym as they do now.
The office at Hollywood would also be moved to right next to the main entrance to create a secure entrance, trading places with a small special education classroom. The Hollywood library would also be renovated and updated.
The costs of the upgrades are expected to paid out of the district's reserves, which now stand at a little more $30 million. At its Feb. 20 meeting, the school board will hear more from its business manager about other ways the district could pay for the improvements.
In 2012 and 2013 the district spent about $22 million for major internal renovations and upgrades at each school in the district. Those renovations focused mostly on updating infrastructure, not creating new learning spaces.
All the schools were air conditioned and new heating, electrical and plumbing systems were installed. There were also some technological upgrades, such as replacing chalkboards with white boards and adding modern technology to classrooms.
Now the district wants to emphasize security and create more flexible group learning spaces to relieve crowding at the schools and to better fit the ways of modern teaching.
"Our enrollment continues to go up and up," said Ryan-Toye.
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