Proviso Township High Schools District 209 officials held the fourth, and by far the largest, master facilities plan community engagement session at Proviso Math and Science Academy, 8601 W. Roosevelt Rd. in Forest Park, on April 24. 

More than 400 people packed the school’s auditorium to hear architects from Perkins and Will, the architectural firm contracted last year to facilitate the master facilities planning process, present a series of long-term facilities concepts for the school. Last month’s meeting was the first where community members could actually see visual schemes of what future changes to the district’s three campuses might look like. 

The architects presented three concepts for each school. Two of the nine concepts — which were also the most unpopular among those in attendance at the meeting — called for Proviso East and Proviso West accommodating PMSA, which would be relocated from its current campus in Forest Park to either of the two other schools. 

“Tonight we’re in concept testing,” said Mark Jolicoeur, a Perkins and Will architect. “For each of the three schools we have different concepts. They are nothing more than that. They are ideas to test how the sites can work.”

All of the concepts addressed the high square footage per student at all three of the campuses, each of which has a classroom utilization rate of less than 70 percent — well below the recommended rate of around 85 percent — and hosts far fewer students than they have the capacity to host. 

Two of the three concepts for East would entail moving the faculty, staff and student parking lots that are currently west of 1st Avenue onto the school’s main campus; adding a new student commons area in the center of the main academic building; either building a new fieldhouse or extensively renovating the current one; consolidating and reconstructing PE athletics facilities in the fieldhouse; and upgrading the football stadium (including improving the track and field space); among other improvements. 

The third concept for East would entail building a space for PMSA’s campus at the corner of 1st Avenue and Madison St. while building an academic addition for East. Similarly, the third concept for West entails relocating PMSA’s campus into a separate wing of the campus. 

All three concepts for PMSA would entail relocating the parking lot entry further north and providing additional drop-off and pick-up access. A new lane dedicated to student drop-off and pickup would be designed to lower congestion and create safer site circulation, architects said. 

In addition, all of the PMSA concepts would include a new student commons area featuring a secured entry that would allow for after-hours use, and the addition of a new play field with a walking track. 

The first PMSA concept entails the addition of a new gymnasium and locker rooms while the second concept only features new performing arts and woodshop space. The third concept for the school features both new gymnasium and locker space, as well as new performing arts space (additional space for music instruction would replace the woodshop space).

District 209 Supt. Jesse Rodriguez started the meeting off by addressing the public reaction that accompanied the third community engagement session, where Perkins and Will publicly broached the possibility of closing PMSA’s Forest Park campus and presented a series of options — all but one of which called for relocating the magnet school to Proviso East in Maywood and/or Proviso West in Hillside. 

At the time, Perkins and Will representatives stressed that the options were merely preliminary and were generated based, in large part, on public input gathered during previous sessions. 

The architects also acknowledged the difficulty of even posing the possibility of consolidating the campuses, which touched off a storm of reaction, particularly among PMSA students and parents — some of whom mistakenly conflated the architectural concepts for imminent board decisions, among other misunderstandings about the facilities process. 

The architects’ preliminary scenarios also sparked a debate among many community members that has been constant since PMSA opened roughly a decade ago inside of a converted office building once owned by Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood.

Many PMSA parents and students have argued that the magnet school’s location in a separate building from East and West — both of which lag in academic performance and experience more discipline issues — is a large part of PMSA’s appeal, allowing students who may not feel comfortable at the other two schools a space to thrive. 

Critics of the selective enrollment school, however, have claimed that it has been a source of stigma for students at East and West, many of whom may feel alienated from PMSA’s many successes, which include being ranked among the top suburban high schools in the Chicago area. 

During last month’s community engagement session, supporters of PMSA as a campus separate from East or West seemed to dominate the public feedback portion of the meeting, plastering the poster boards depicting the two concepts that entail PMSA merging with East and West with red dots indicating “something that you don’t think works,” architects said. 

In his opening remarks, Supt. Rodriguez seemed to address the public divide while clarifying how the master facilities process works. 

“We value all students and all children in our school districts,” he said, before adding that the district is “not closing any schools. That’s not what the discussion is about. The Board of Education and superintendent are not in discussions about closing any schools.” 

Rodriguez emphasized that the architect’s concepts are only options that have not yet been finalized. Once finalized, “those options will become recommendations,” he said.

“I will have a recommendation and the board will have a recommendation,” Rodriguez added. “The board will vote on that recommendation maybe by October or November.” 

The D209 school board will hold a listening session for community members to give input on the plan on May 15, 6 p.m., at PMSA.