DECATUR – Superintendent Paul Fregeau unveiled an ambitious five-year plan Tuesday to reconfigure Decatur Public Schools' footprint, consolidating the district's 22 existing buildings down to 17 by the end of that time.
Ultimately, five schools would be decommissioned: Durfee, Baum, Oak Grove, Stevenson and Garfield. Fregeau told the district's board of education that there are no plans yet for the future of those buildings once they are no longer being used as schools.
“This will mean over $1 million in operational savings once these buildings are offline,” Fregeau said.
At the top of the list of considerations that went into this plan, he said, is decreasing or eliminating the wait lists for the most popular programs: Johns Hill Magnet School, Dennis School and those buildings with Montessori programming, which stresses hands-on, self-directed learning. Montessori is offered at Garfield, which is preschool through eighth grade, and at Enterprise School, which is offering preschool through fourth grade in Montessori programming, while fifth and sixth grades are still traditional classes. Enterprise has been adding a grade a year to its Montessori program, and expectations are that the school will be full Montessori in two more years.
Reducing the number of buildings will maximize resources, Fregeau said, and there's also the consideration of adding air conditioning to buildings that lack it now.
This plan, he said, will include closing Durfee; building a new Johns Hill on a site near the existing Johns Hill building; consolidating both middle schools into one building; consolidating several elementary schools and building additions onto buildings to accommodate more students; creating a two-campus program for Dennis School; and moving French Academy to the existing Enterprise location.
The estimated cost of the changes is $33 million, officials have said. The board voted unanimously to approve authorization for Fregeau to apply to the Illinois State Board of Education and the Regional Office of Education to use life/health/safety bonds to pursue the plan's provisions for Johns Hill, Durfee and the additions to Franklin, Muffley, Parsons and South Shores.
The wide-ranging facilities plan has not been formally approved. Board Vice President Beth Nolan asked Fregeau to place such a vote on an upcoming agenda so there would be no doubt that the board is behind the plan.
Part of the justification for needing fewer buildings is a drop in enrollment, Fregeau said.
Earlier in the meeting, Director of Student Services Lawrence Trimble gave the 12-day enrollment figures. The district's current enrollment is 8,831 students, down from 9,001 last year, though Trimble said some students who were registered have not shown up. That is not unusual, he added, and attempts are being made to learn if those students have moved to other districts. He said he expects the total enrollment numbers to increase at least slightly over the next few months.
District leaders have grappled for years with how best to use their facilities. In 2015, the district formed a group of staff, parents and community members to study the use of space and make recommendations. The group, called the Facility Advisory Committee for Exceptional Schools (FACES), laid out recommendations last year that included razing Johns Hill and Durfee Magnet schools and replacing them with a new building on the Johns Hill campus. FACES was disbanded in 2017.