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Peru Elementary School District officials answered the public’s questions, mostly about traffic, during a meeting Wednesday regarding plans to build an addition at Northview Elementary School to take in students now attending the old Washington school.
Neighbors asked about parents picking up and dropping off kids, which now occurs wholly along Plum Street and creates significant traffic. Jim and Nancy Wroblewski live on the adjacent Sunset Drive and said they are worried the extra kids will stack up car and bus traffic.
Buses would queue up along the west side of Plum Street on a widened off-street lane to avoid interferening with traffic, according to the plan. There would be lanes, loops and parking for cars, all off the street, with multiple drop-off points to reduce congestion. The plan also includes two entrances and exits. The existing one off Shooting Park Road would be shifted east so it aligns with West Street. A new entrance/exit would be created off Plum Street aligning with 21st Street.
Some neighbors said they anticipate problems anyway. Superintendent Mark Cross and Jacob Been, the district’s architect, said the plan will undergo adjustments as needed.
“I think we want to let the architect listen to your feedback and do some tweaking,” Cross said.
Cross said the district went through similar traffic apprehension in 2009 when it opened the new Parkside school, the location of Wednesday’s meeting.
“It was chaos here the first two weeks and now it is a smooth-running machine,” Cross said.
Greg Sheedy lives on Crescent Drive along the Northview’s west border. He asked about landscape buffering.
The plan would move an existing lane farther away from the property line to leave space for trees and shrubs. Some neighbors want a fence.
“One neighbor may prefer a fence but another neighbor may not,” Cross said. Security at schools generally avoids solid screens of plants and fences, he said.
One resident asked about space for the addition. The addition would be built on ample open ground to the north of Northview, south of Sunset Drive, and leave room for playgrounds and stormwater management, according to the plan.
The school board this fall decided to plan a 40,000 square-foot addition to the 55-year-old Northview to accommodate students now attending the 75-year-old Washington School. Northview, which now serves 290 students in grades pre-kindergarten through first, would take in all of Washington’s students, which now number 280 in grades 2-4.
The district made recent improvements to Northview including asbestos removal and new floors, lighting and boilers. The district plans to finance the $11 million project with a state construction grant.
“We’ve got $11 million that we think we can spend smarter than the state of Illinois can,” Cross said.
The grant became available just as a facilities assessment showed Washington needed $5.75 million in improvements, an investment the board considered unworthy given the building’s age and design.
“Do you see how the stars and planets lined up for Peru?” Cross said. “We feel pretty fortunate.”
As outlined at the meeting, bids would be taken in April, construction would begin in June and the addition would open in August 2015. Construction during the summers of 2014 and 2015 would help reduce disturbances during the 2014-15 school year.
The district experienced a similar facilities shift just four years ago. In 2009 the district sold its old Roosevelt school for $100,000 to La Salle/Putnam County Educational Alliance for special education and built Parkside School for grades 5-8.
Washington students moved to Parkside, Northview moved to Washington and Roosevelt closed and moved to Northview.
Under the new plan, Washington would no longer school the district’s students but its fate remains undecided.