A long-awaited building addition and other renovations have recently begun at John Mills Elementary School in Elmwood Park.
“We’ve been talking about improving our schools for many years, and now we’re in a position to make that happen,” said Leah Gauthier, superintendent of schools for School District 401 in the Elmwood Park Community Unit, during of the groundbreaking ceremony on May 17. “Our hope and journey is to create the best possible learning environment for our current and future Elmwood Park students.”
The $29.9 million project includes a 7,720 square foot building addition and major infrastructure improvements in every area of the school. Funding for the renovations at John Mills, as well as similar upgrades at Elmwood Elementary School, came from a $55 million bond referendum that voters approved in March 2020.
The planned two-story building addition for John Mills will add two new kindergarten classrooms to the first floor.
“On the second floor, there will be a new media center,” said Jim Jennings, assistant superintendent of finance and operations. “Renovations inside the current building include the installation of toilets in all kindergarten rooms.”
Jennings said the second floor will also include a “creative space” which, like the media center, can be used for a classroom when needed. The floor will also include a small “quiet room” for individual or small group instruction.
The project also includes the complete replacement of all windows, doors, furnaces, water heaters, lights and security cameras throughout the school, according to project information on the district’s website. Air conditioning, plumbing pipes, electrical wiring, circuit breakers and panels will also be upgraded or replaced as needed.
“Teaching and learning are strongly influenced by the physical environment,” said John Mills director Frank Kuzniewski. “The renovations and additions will allow students to have more opportunities to receive the attention and services they need to create a better future. The teams that collaborated on this project understood that there were both aesthetic and functional needs that had to be satisfied and I am convinced that they met this expectation.
All asbestos will be removed from the school as part of the renovation, including the reduction of materials from an exterior soffit of the building which began two months ago. This work is being performed by TRC Environmental, an asbestos abatement contractor licensed by the Illinois Department of Public Health, according to project plans.
“TRC has handled the district’s past clean-up projects and has consistently delivered quality work,” Jennings said. “They are following all state and county guidelines and testing the air thoroughly to ensure the safety of students, staff and their own workers. As an added level of protection, the reduction of ceiling tiles in John Mills Gymnasium occurs during the summer when students and staff are no longer in the building.
John Mills Elementary School currently serves 676 K-5 students and employs 56 teachers. The 2020 election ballot referendum included $25,077,700 for similar renovations at Elmwood Elementary School.
“The school board was careful not to sell more bonds than was needed for the project,” Gauthier said. “The architects worked closely with our construction management company to thoroughly review the plans and perform an accurate cost analysis. We used the same two companies for the additions to our high school and middle school buildings and both projects were on budget. »
Officials said all work at John Mills and Elmwood Schools will be complete by August 2024.
Gary Gibula is a freelancer.