'Aggressive' plan gives D-300 administrators, Oak Ridge students new buildings

Officials still need to work out finances of $7 million project

CARPENTERSVILLE – After setting the goal 17 years ago, District 300 administrators have found a permanent home for the alternative Oak Ridge School, and in doing so, a new home for themselves under a plan unveiled late Monday night.

In a complex move, administrators would vacate their main office building in Carpentersville in March, send construction crews to make roughly $1.5 million in renovations and transform the space into a permanent school for Oak Ridge students by the start of the new school year this fall.

Administrators would be temporarily housed at Hampshire High School for nine months, while they construct a new, two-story administrative building – estimated to cost $5.5 million – along district-owned property near Jacobs High School.

During a near three-hour meeting Monday, board members called the plan aggressive and questioned whether administrators at the Carpentersville-based school district could have a new office built by December.

Administrators, meanwhile, still have to iron out the details on how they would pay for the entire plan and its $7 million total price tag.

"We love aggressive," Chuck Bumbales, assistant superintendent of operations, told members. "We completed (Gilberts Elementary) in nine months with your support. My confidence level is very high that we will be able to work through that."

Despite the aggressiveness, board members voiced strong support for the plan that moves roughly 80 students at Oak Ridge out of mobile trailers and into a permanent setting for the first time since the program started in 1998.

Members are expected to vote on the plan during their Feb. 24 meeting. Administrators revealed it publicly for the first time Monday, although they have discussed the moves privately with the board and began designing their new 32,000-square-foot office near Jacobs High for months.

The recent property swap, which also went final Monday, with the Children's Home and Aid Society put the plan into motion.

The $750,000 sale of the current Oak Ridge property to the society, plus a recently awarded $50,000 state grant, will help pay the estimated $1.5 million costs to renovate Oak Ridge's new home at the district's Central Office, 300 Cleveland Ave., Carpentersville, said Chief Financial Officer Susan Harkin.

Officials believe the state will pay the district $60 million in capital grants, backlogged from construction projects started in 2004. The district would use a portion of that money to cover the remaining $5 million to complete the renovation and build a new centralized administrative building, Harkin said.

If the district ranks high enough, the state could award the overdue money a year from now, Harkin said. The state recently completed a similar process for groups who applied for capital development grants in 2003, she said.

"If they follow the same timeline they just went through, we could expect to hear in a few months that we are up for it," Harkin said. "Depending upon where we are prioritized, we are hoping that we will be in the first run."

If the state doesn't come through, the district would have to borrow and take on more debt to complete both projects, Harkin said. The district also has roughly $1.2 million leftover from capital bonds issued last year that could help pay for both projects, she noted.

In planning the moves, officials examined renovating existing space and buying property for an administrative building, said Superintendent Michael Bregy. The central location near Jacobs puts the administration under one roof after student growth scattered various administrators throughout the district.

"This option is the most economical for the space that we needed ... putting all of our services in one building," Bregy said.

Meanwhile, the renovated space for Oak Ridge students accomplishes a district goal set when the program opened.

The permanent facility allows officials to expand the school's enrollment and grant students access to a cafeteria and gym at nearby Carpentersville Middle School, said Shelley Nacke, assistant superintendent of education services.

"I'm actually giddy that we are able to do this because with your dedication and support of the Oak Ridge program, you've continually looked at different options," Nacke told the board. "This one looks at a reality to get Oak Ridge into a real building."

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