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CERRO GORDO — As an ambitious $8 million school renovation project takes shape in Cerro Gordo, school board President Todd Henricks said some people have wondered why progress isn't more obvious.

That's changed in the past week.

“The thing a lot of people didn't realize, they thought construction was going slow when the summer went past and no walls were being built. We had the walls built (off site) and brought in and set up,” said Henricks, noting a lot of renovation has also been done inside the original structure, which isn't obvious from outside.

Project architect Damien Schlitt of BLDD Architects of Decatur had the idea to  construct the walls off site, Henricks said, and in the past few days, those walls have arrived, been erected and are close to completion. One of the things Henricks likes best about the design, he said, is that it blends with the 1929 building, including the brick.

“It just looks phenomenal how they've accomplished that,” Henricks said.

A bond sale that district voters approved through a referendum, and an addition $2 million bond that will be repaid by Macon and Piatt counties' sales tax revenues devoted to school facilities provided the funds, and the project is expected to be complete by summer 2019. Construction got its official start on an exceptionally chilly day in April when Cerro Gordo school officials put ceremonial shovels into the ground.

The 17,975-square-foot addition will attach the existing junior/senior high building to the 1963 gymnasium on the other side of the parking lot, creating one secure entrance, added classrooms, a STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) area and a new library. Renovations to the existing building, which was built in 1929, include transforming the old gym into an auditorium and adding an elevator to the three-story building for accessibility, Superintendent Brett Robinson said.

Henricks said he is also pleased about the track, a separate project the board voted to approve in May and which is already substantially complete. Final touches are underway.

“We're moving ahead out here,” Henricks said.

More and more in recent years, said Schlitt, whose firm does much of the school building work in this area, school districts are choosing additions and renovations over new construction. Some of that is due to Illinois' budget woes, but some of it is simple economics.

“The alternative is to tear it down and spend twice as much (to build new),” said Schlitt, citing Decatur's renovations of Eisenhower and MacArthur high schools as an example, of which BLDD was a part. “Remodel and renovation are becoming pretty common ways to re-imagine and rethink a building.”

It was important to the Cerro Gordo school board and community to preserve the historic building and the look of the campus, he said, and he kept that in mind while designing the addition to look like it had always been part of the whole.

“That was kind of a goal but also a challenge,” Schlitt said. “In a lot of ways, that made decisions for us in how the building should look and fit into the site, and that goes back to a lot of community planning.”

The original structure has “good bones,” he said, and the renovations will take care of the needed updates so it can serve for many years to come.

School will begin on time Aug. 15, with teachers coming back to work Aug. 13, Henricks said. Pathways and sidewalks have been put in to allow students to skirt around the construction safely and extra time between classes has been built into the schedule.

“We're flexible on that (passing time),” Henricks said. “If that amount of time is not sufficient, we'll add a minute or two.”

Contact Valerie Wells at (217) 421-7982. Follow her on Twitter: @modgirlreporter

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Education Reporter

Education reporter for the Herald & Review.

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