By David Blanchette

Numerous public schools in the Springfield area will soon receive needed upgrades as part of a School District 186 initiative to create better facilities and more secure learning environments while addressing needed maintenance and life/safety issues.

A total of $40.9 million worth of work on schools is currently in the design phase, and it is a direct result of the recent one percent sales tax referendum, according to District 186 superintendent Jennifer Gill.        

“We’re grateful to the community for making these projects possible through the use of sales tax revenue that voters approved in November 2018,” Gill said. “We’re excited to begin the design phase with local and regional architects and eager to check off some vital security and safety improvements in the immediate future.”

District 186 hopes to break ground this summer on the current round of projects, Gill said, and most of the work can be done while school is in session.  Another round of project design selections will be made this spring.

“We will continue to look to our families and school communities as we have done all along throughout this process,” Gill said. “Their input is crucial as blueprints are drawn, shovels break ground and our preferred future comes to life.”

The Springfield Education Association, the union representing District 186 employees, is looking forward to the positive change the improvements will bring.   

“We are excited about the improved safety that it will provide for kids and for our members, and the increase in educational opportunities that a larger, more modern, safer environment will provide,” said Aaron Graves, Springfield Education Association president. “At the same time, we have a lot of unique types of professionals working with kids and we want to make sure their space needs are also kept in mind during this process.”

Beth Moore, president of the Springfield Public Schools Foundation, said she is also pleased that the projects are underway.

“We believe this is exactly what should be happening, and we know that improvements in the schools will help both the teachers and the children,” Moore said. “We are pleased that the voters were forward-thinking enough to make this happen.”            

The District 186 improvement projects stem from the district’s master plan prepared by BLDD Architects of Springfield. That plan called for all mobile unit classrooms to be removed and replaced  with permanent classroom space and for upgrades to be made where needed in all of the district’s facilities.

The master plan was unveiled in late 2017 and provides “educational excellence, cost effectiveness, and upholds community values,” according to the report’s summary. Key provisions of the plan include:

• Equitably addressing functional and physical needs across the district.

• Creating student-centered learn ing environments based upon current and future educational program needs.

• Cost-effectively integrating

existing building use with new additions.

• Maintaining the historic and cultural value of existing facilities.

• Enhancing community pride.

• Creating learning environments that are competitive with model 21st century school districts.

• Addressing all health and life safety obligations and removing all portable classrooms.

PLANNED PROJECTS

Franklin and Grant Middle Schools will each have additional classroom space constructed to eliminate mobile classrooms, plus receive expanded cafeteria space. The projects, totaling $9,527,216, are being designed by Melotte Morse Leonatti Parker, Ltd. of Springfield.

IDG Architects of Peoria is working on a $9,449,406 project for additional classroom space, also to eliminate mobile classrooms, along with added cafeteria space for Jefferson and Washington Middle Schools.

Mobile classroom elimination through additional classroom space, plus secure entrances, are in the works for Fairview, Black Hawk and Sandburg Elementary Schools. Graham & Hyde Architects of Springfield is designing these projects, which total $8,894,706.

Springfield’s Farnsworth Group, which recently acquired FWAI Architects, is working on projects worth $7,486,922 that will add more classroom space and do away with mobile classrooms at Butler, Dubois and Harvard Park Elementary Schools. All three facilities will also receive secure entrances and elevator upgrades.

Roof replacements are scheduled at Addams Elementary, Douglas School and the district’s Early Learning Center, while partial roof replacements will be completed at Ball Charter and Springfield High School.  Health, life and safety improvements will be performed at Feitshans and Graham Elementary and Lawrence Education Center. These projects total $3,361,772. Steckel Parker Architects of Springfield is working on the Addams, Douglas and Lawrence projects; Prather Tucker Associates and John Shafer & Associates of Springfield, the Feitshans, Graham and Lawrence projects; and Allied Design Consultants of Springfield, the work at Ball Charter and Springfield High.

Twenty district schools will have security cameras installed in a $1,042,742 project being designed by Melotte Morse Leonatti Parker, Ltd.

Graham & Hyde Architects is designing the $899,095 heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) control work at Butler, Dubois, Southern View and Lindsay Elementary Schools.

A total of $255,000 in secure entry work will be done at Addams, Lee, McClernand and Ridgely Elementary Schools in a project designed by CJP Architects of Springfield.

David Blanchette is a freelance writer from Jacksonville and is also the co-owner of Studio 131 Photography in Springfield.