During a community engagement meeting held Feb. 27 as part of Proviso Township High Schools District 209’s master facilities planning process, members of the public openly grappled with the prospect of eliminating the Proviso Math and Science Academy campus in order to save costs and maximize the use of space at Proviso East and Proviso West.
Since the district tapped the architectural firm Perkins and Will to draw up a comprehensive plan for improving the district’s three campuses last June, the firm has hosted three engagement meetings.
The two meetings prior to the Feb. 27 meeting centered on exploring the areas where the district’s campuses need to be improved the most.
Mark Jolicoeur, of Perkins and Will, said that the “guiding principles” that have anchored the community engagement process have been “fiscal responsibility, equity and [whether or not the process is] data-informed.”
The Proviso East meeting was the first at which some possible options for approaching the district’s capital needs were discussed. The fact that all three campuses in District 209 have classrooms that are severely underutilized factored prominently in last month’s discussion.
The classroom utilization rates at all three schools range between 64 percent and 67 percent. Jolicoeur said that the target rate for newly constructed school buildings is around 85 percent to 90 percent.
“The good thing,” he said, “is that there is flexibility” and ways that populations might be shifted around to increase utilization rates. More buildings, he added, aren’t needed.
Jolicoeur said that the raw data obtained from capacity analyses done by the firm indicated that Proviso East, with roughly 1,800 students, has the capacity to hold around 1,900 to 2,500 students.
PMSA, at 790 students, has the capacity to hold an additional 850 to 1,100 students, while Proviso West, at 1,850 students, has the capacity to hold around 2,000 to 4,600 students.
Nowadays, Jolicoeur said, education spaces are required to be much more flexible than in the past, particularly to account for the growth in special education, technology and various student support services.
“One of the key questions that came out of the second community engagement session is, as a district, do we have too many facilities?” Jolicoeur asked.
The costs of operating those facilities, he added, cuts into money that might go directly to education purposes.
The question led into what Perkins and Will representatives called some “hard questions.”
For the first time in the master facilities planning process, the architects offered a series of very preliminary options for dealing with the district’s facilities burden and most of them centered on what to do with PMSA.
The first option was to look at the needs of all three campuses and consider improving all three — what they called the status quo.
The second option was to “co-locate” PMSA at both East and West while maintaining the magnet school in its current form.
The third option was to choose to locate PMSA at either East or West.
A fourth option was to merge PMSA into the existing curriculum at East and West, and the fifth option was to locate PMSA at Proviso West while combining the student enrollments at both East and West at Proviso East.
The options favored by the roughly 30 community members present at the meeting ran the gamut, with the third and fourth options seeming to gain the most traction. Some community members said that merging the schools would raise the confidence of students at East and West, who may feel stigmatized by being left out of PMSA’s many successes — which include being ranked as the top high school in suburban Cook County by one publication.
The Forest Park building in which PMSA sits used to be an office building owned by Loyola University Medical Center. It was purchased and retrofitted by District 209 for $40 million.
Joliceour said that a fourth community engagement session is scheduled to take place on April 24 to discuss more details about the possible options. He said that the firm will have a draft facilities master plan completed by May to present to the board in June.
Attempts to contact D209 board President Theresa Kelly for comment were unsuccessful.