Referendum construction begins

Long process of renovations across district start


Shorewood School District

An illustration of what the new addition to the administration building will look like. Visitors will enter this building first, where all administration offices will be relocated

In early June, as the virtual fourth quarter was wrapping up, work began on three Shorewood schools. Atwater Elementary, Lake Bluff Elementary and Shorewood High School saw construction equipment and crews arrive on campuses, beginning a process of renovation and construction throughout the district. 

On April 2, 2019, Shorewood residents voted on two referendum questions. One asked if the residents supported the school district putting $65 million towards renovations and additions to district schools. The other questions asked about raising the yearly funding for district costs to $275,000. Both questions passed.

This summer, that $65 million in renovations and additions started. Specific planning for the project started just after the vote, and took nearly a year to finish.

“Right after the referendum passed, the design team went into full design mode, and spent close to 9 months in a design process before any of the construction work got bid out,” said Mike Huffman, owner’s representative for the referendum construction project.

Right after the referendum passed, the design team went into full design mode, and spent close to 9 months in a design process before any of the construction work got bid out

— Mike Huffman

At both elementary schools, there have been general renovations of classrooms and parts of the buildings. The scaffolding on the chimney of Atwater is both a very visible part of the construction process, and a big decision in the renovation plans. 

“I think that’s an iconic element of your community, I think it’s something that people are used to seeing,” Huffman said. “I think we could’ve gotten rid of the chimney. It no longer serves the function that it did back when it was constructed in the late 1800s … But because it’s an iconic element, it needed to stay, and if it’s gonna stay, it needs to be maintained.”

Part of the renovation of the chimney is working on preserving and maintaining the brick and mortar of the structure. “Tuck and pointing,” a process of digging old mortar out and putting new mortar in, will help preserve the life of the chimney. According to Huffman, with these changes, the chimney will last, at least, for the next 50 years. 

At Lake Bluff, there will be renovations to several classrooms at a time throughout the next few years. Per this construction plan, the elementary schools will be most affected, both by having the longest construction projects and by shifting classroom availability. 

“The elementary schools are really just a series of renovating groups of three or four rooms … moving people into those classrooms and shifting over to renovate the rooms they just moved out of,” Huffman said. “It’s really just this puzzle of shifting people around to be able to renovate, so that’s just an ongoing process and that will continue on all the way through next summer.”

Also at the elementary schools, the buildings will be reorganized and the administrative offices will be moved in each school. Usually visitors have access to the rest of the building before entering the office. 

“That doesn’t fit where our society is today with entries to elementary schools,” Huffman said. “Everyone is shooting for a more secure entry –– unfortunately we call it the post-Columbine school entry: coming to the building, not being allowed in until you’ve been identified, and then getting access only into the office before you get access to the rest of the building. … That’ll also happen at the high school, it’ll just come along later in the process.”

Secure entry to the high school is included in the construction on that campus. The administration building is receiving an addition in which the administrative offices will be moved to. 

“Most of these district offices are all going to move into the new section … and then [construction teams] are going to demo the first floor and completely redo all of the Student Support Services,” said Tim Kenney, principal.

Student Support Services will now occupy all of the northeast area of the first floor of the administration building, which will include the three school counselors, the school psychologist and a conference room where students can meet with college representatives.

The addition at the high school is two stories tall, including the second floor library, also known as the Library Media Center (LMC). The LMC will be expanded into the second floor of the addition, which required the whole second floor to be stripped of walls, ceilings, carpeting and bathroom appliances. Debra Schwinn, teacher, has a classroom on the second floor.

“The LMC looks like a battle zone, the east lab and the Think Space are also gone,” Schwinn said in an email. “The floor is bare concrete, and the lights are those light bulbs in cages hung from the ceiling. The woodwork is intact, and that’s a relief. We still have chalkboards. Another relief. But I really don’t see much ‘classroom’ happening in there for a good while.”

If there were no pandemic and students were coming back to school in-person, Kenney says there could be learning happening in those classrooms.

“The classrooms up on the second floor are usable, and they would be usable for this school year” Kenney said. “They’re not finished, they still need to have some touch-up work done, new carpeting put down –– that got pushed to next summer. But they’re fully functional.”

The second floor of the high school will be completed around the end of December, and the full addition will be complete around the last week of February, according to Huffman. 

Included in the second floor construction are new gender-neutral bathrooms, in addition to the renovated girls’ and boys’ bathrooms. The new bathroom layout will get rid of the familiar step up into the bathroom, making it a level entrance into the space.

“The gender-neutral bathrooms will serve multiple purposes. One of the most important ones is that you don’t have to step up into it. So it’s now ADA compliant,” Kenney said. “Plus, [for] any of our transgender students who might feel only comfortable utilizing a single bathroom space.”

The pandemic affected construction in both positive and negative ways. Due to the school closing in March, construction crews were able to start work on the elementary schools a little earlier.

“At Shorewood it affected in a way that you might not expect, and that is that it accelerated our timeline, [since] you guys were not using your buildings,” Huffman said. “So we were able to get started a little bit early in Atwater and Lake Bluff. Not much, but by a couple of weeks we got started early.”

At the high school, there was no longer pressure to finish a parking lot on time for the 2020-2021 school year. 

“A couple areas fell behind because of unforeseen things that always pop up,” Kenney said. “The original plan was to have the parking lot done by September 1. When we made the decision that we were going to be starting virtually … It took the sense of urgency off of finishing the parking lot.”

A couple areas fell behind because of unforeseen things that always pop up

— Tim Kenney

There were issues not related to the pandemic that arose while reconstruction of the parking lot. As construction crews started working on the lot, they discovered an outdated storm-water management system that needed redesigning. 

“At one time it was acceptable to just let all your storm water discharge to the municipality and the municipality took care of all of it,” Huffman said. “Storm water management rules these days are that you have to manage a lot of that water on your site … We’ve got to deal with that [water] below your parking lot. So what that does is in the event of [a large amount of rain], all the water coming off of your high school site doesn’t overwhelm the municipality. It will get stored underneath your parking lot and then slowly discharge into the municipalities storm-sewer system.”

If there was no pandemic, students would have to manage getting around campus differently, especially in the high school. There were originally some precautions made to reduce the inconvenience for students and staff as construction commenced during the school year.

“It’s difficult to do $65 million of renovation without significantly affecting the staff and the student body, so you’re gonna have a couple years here dealing with construction projects,” Huffman said. “The strategy is to do some of the heavy demolition and some of the heavy earth work during the summer so you’re not dealing with that loud activity and what can be a little bit of an unsafe environment with heavy equipment.”

In the end, both Huffman and Kenney believe that the renovations will benefit students and staff. Specifically, Huffman thinks the students will feel an improvement in their classroom environment after the construction is done.

“In terms of what the students are going to experience, certainly they’re going to experience upgraded finishes in the classroom,” Huffman said. “So if they looked dated and tired, they’re gonna look fresh and a bit more modern within the context of the historic building.”

Kenney is sure the outcome of the referendum project will give the high school a new and improved atmosphere.

“All the classrooms are gonna turn into pretty much brand new classrooms, so they’re all gonna have new carpeting, all fresh paint, everything’s going to be touched up, everything’s going to look nice,” Kenney said. “And spaces that look nice feel nice.”