DECATUR –Decatur School District officials are considering several recommendations for changes to Decatur school buildings.
A presentation by Todd Cyrulik of BLDD Architects to the school board this week covered several points that have been discussed over the last few years, though no action has ever been taken. Superintendent Paul Fregeau made the following recommendations:
- Combine Garfield Montessori School and Enterprise School in Enterprise's building. Enterprise is adding Montessori programming one grade level at a time with a goal of being fully Montessori in two more years. This step would require expansion of the building to accommodate an estimated 800 students. The Montessori programs are magnet schools with long waiting lists.
- Move Johns Hill Magnet School to the Stephen Decatur building, and combine both middle schools into one, to be housed at Thomas Jefferson Middle School. That, too, would require expansion to accommodate an estimated 812 students. Johns Hill has 494 students as of the 2017-18 school year, and moving the program could mean it could accommodate 750 students, relieving its waiting list.
- Expand all schools with waiting lists to decrease those lists.
- Move sixth grade into the middle school.
- Build a new school on the Johns Hill campus to replace the existing building.
- Install air conditioning into buildings that do not have it.
District spokeswoman Maria Robertson said the board members had several questions after the presentation and hearing the recommendations, which Fregeau said could take some time to research. No timeline has been specified as to when he'll have those answers, but no vote is expected by the board until after that, nor any action anticipated. At this point, Robertson said, the recommendations are in the most preliminary discussion stage only.
The Facility Advisory Committee for Exception Schools Committee first met in September 2015 to begin formulating a plan for Decatur's school buildings. One of their main charges was to address the age and condition of the oldest buildings in the district, Johns Hill, Durfee Magnet School, French Academy and Dennis School, as well as the growing waiting lists for Garfield and Johns Hill, both of which are already at capacity.
The idea of building a new school on the grounds of Johns Hill, to replace both Johns Hill and Durfee, has been under consideration since the beginning. Johns Hill's age, the cost of making the three-story building on the hill accessible to those with mobility issues, and the lack of air-conditioning, are all factors. However, the Illinois State Board of Education has twice rejected the Decatur School Districts requests to allow the use of life/health/safety funds for the project. Fregeau said in August 2017, when the most recent rejection was received, that the district would try a third time.
Installing air conditioning into the buildings that lack it has been on the table for several years as well. Former Superintendent Gloria Davis first mentioned that need several times during the push to pass the 1 percent sales tax increase in Macon County in 2010, which is dedicated to schools' physical facilities.
Decatur uses revenue from that increase to pay back the bonds that funded the renovations of Eisenhower and MacArthur high schools, which will take roughly 26 more years to pay off, but Chief Operational Office Todd Covault said in 2017 that the revenue is adequate to make those payments and taking out additional bonds for expansion or construction to replace Johns Hill, for example, would not place an undue burden on the district under current guidelines.
This story has been updated.