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David Terrell, left, and Chase Freeman play basketball on the court at Johns Hill Park in Decatur on Tuesday afternoon. The Decatur School District would acquire the park under a land exchange the school board voted on Tuesday night. 

DECATUR — Johns Hill Park would become the location for a new public school building and the Decatur Park District would take ownership of soccer fields near Stephen Decatur Middle School under a deal that moved forward Tuesday night.

The Decatur Board of Education voted unanimously in favor of an intergovernmental agreement with the park district to swap the properties. The park district’s board of commissioners has not yet voted on the matter.

“This partnership is a great example of the benefits that can occur when public entities work collaboratively to support the students and families in the Decatur community,” Superintendent Paul Fregeau said in a statement released after the meeting.

Under the deal, the school district would acquire the 17-acre Johns Hill Park, 611 S. Jasper St., including the senior center in the center of the park. The park district would acquire roughly 35 acres near the middle school, 1 Educational Park.

About 1,400 young athletes who participate in the MidState Soccer Club use the complex off Mound Road. The park district and school district had previously been in a 40-year lease agreement that allowed the park district program to use the soccer complex.

School board members did not discuss the property or plans for it before the vote Tuesday. But in a statement, the school district said the exchange would make way for “construction of a new state-of-the-art Johns Hill Magnet School.” A new building for Johns Hill has been part of the school district’s wide-ranging BOLD facilities plan, which reduces the number of district buildings from 22 to 17 and calls for renovations to a number of schools.

Speaking by phone earlier Tuesday, park board President Chris Harrison said the park district's board would likely vote on the agreement at an upcoming meeting.

Harrison said activities that now take place at the Johns Hill Senior Center will be moved to another park district facility by the end of the year, and activities that take place in the park will be transferred to other areas. Programs at the Decatur Soccer Complex will not be affected by the change, he said.

Harrison was also quoted in a press release issued by the school district, saying: “This land exchange allows both the school district and park district to better serve the taxpayers by creating this mutually beneficial arrangement.”

In other business, the school board on Tuesday accepted bids for furnishings and renovations at Thomas Jefferson Middle School, another part of the facilities plan. The work is estimated to cost $6 million and include renovations to nearly 30,000 square feet of the school, which takes up 112,000 square feet.

Kimberly Kurtenbach of BLDD Architects said bids for 14 packages related to the facility and furnishings came in under budget.

“We are excited to get the ball rolling,” she said.

The new Thomas Jefferson building will become the district's K-8 Montessori School, combining the current Garfield and Enterprise Montessori with a total of around 800 students. Montessori programs are known for their unique educational philosophy, which includes hands-on and self-directed learning. District leaders hope the larger space will alleviate a lengthy waiting list for the popular programs.

The middle school at 4735 E. Cantrell St. closed in May and the Thomas Jefferson students joined the Stephen Decatur Middle School student body this past August, making for a total of about 850 students. District officials held a community meeting last month after parents expressed concerns about student safety on social media and during school board meetings.

Fred Bouchard, assistant superintendent of support services, said construction is set to begin at the end of October and will continue into next year. According to district documents, the school will open in August for the 2020-2021 school year.

Contact Analisa Trofimuk at (217) 421-7985. Follow her on Twitter: @AnalisaTro


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