The protests of students, parents and community members who disapproved of the idea of moving Proviso Math and Science Academy (PMSA) in Forest Park onto the campus of either Proviso East in Maywood or Proviso West in Hillside seem to have resonated with Perkins and Will, the architectural firm hired last year to create a master facilities plan for Proviso Township High Schools District 209.
“There was a strong voice to maintain three facilities within the district,” said Michael Dolter during a June 12 regular board meeting. Dolter said that the focus now is on improving existing infrastructure at all three schools.
The possibility of merging PMSA into either of its sister schools was first brought up during a community engagement meeting on Feb. 27, where the architects facilitated a discussion among community members about the state of the district’s facilities — they found feature low classroom utilization rates and high maintenance costs.
The prospect of dissolving PMSA’s Forest Park campus, an old medical office building, had been introduced by some community members during previous community engagement sessions, the architects said.
The very idea of merging PMSA with its sister schools, however, generated a forceful backlash among PMSA students and families, many of whom mistakenly thought that a merger was eminent even though architects and school board members repeatedly emphasized that the concept was only preliminary and that the board had not taken any formal action on the master facilities plan.
At the June board meeting, Dolter and D209 school board members focused their discussion on pressing capital needs at all three schools. He presented preliminary capital improvement scenarios for each school that were spread out over three phases.
At PMSA, the phase one scenario would include classroom improvements, creating new drop-off and pick-up areas, repaving and installing new physical education fields. Phase two would feature creating a secure central student commons area and new PE facilities. Phase three would include building new performance arts facilities.
At East, phase one would include classroom improvements, renovating science labs, moving parking areas adjacent to the building, repositioning the football stadium and installing a multi-sport surface and creating new bus and parent drop-off areas, among other improvements.
Phase two would feature consolidated PE facilities, relocated and expanded performing arts facilities, new career and technical education spaces, and creating a secure central student commons area at the main entry. Phase three would feature expanded playing fields west of First Avenue, and constructing a new athletic fieldhouse.
Some board members said that they would like to see a plan for addressing the district’s mounting immediate capital needs, particularly basic, state-mandated life safety repairs like servicing fire sprinklers.
“There are emergency repairs required by the state that need to be addressed,” said board member Claudia Medina. “How are we going to start addressing the absolute emergency needs that are requirements for state safety standards for our kids and our facilities? And how are those melded into these phases?”
District 209 Supt. Jesse Rodriguez said that the district is currently on the hook for about $28 million in life safety repairs. He said that the district has about $2 million on hand for making day-to-day capital repairs and improvements.
“We want to make sure that we don’t throw good money after bad money,” Rodriguez said. “If we’re able to fix something and enhance the learning space, just do it one time only.”
Dolter said that Perkins and Will plans to work with district officials over the summer to identify the district’s detailed infrastructure needs, including critical life safety repairs. He said that they’ll present their findings to the board in the fall.