D209 celebrated Proviso East's new culinary lab at a ribbon cutting ceremony last month. | Shanel Romain

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Last month, District 209 officials cut the ribbon on an industrial-grade culinary lab at Proviso East in Maywood and an advanced manufacturing lab at Proviso West in Hillside. Both spaces are part of the district’s college and career readiness programs.

The new post-secondary training spaces are designed to train students who may not have college in mind to walk into career paths right after high school, D209 officials said during a pair of ribbon-cutting ceremonies held at each school on Nov. 17.

“This is a beautiful facility, a beautiful lab,” said D209 Supt. James Henderson before guiding community leaders on a tour of the East culinary lab. “Every child will not attend college and that’s perfectly OK … This is a viable option.”

Theresa Kelly, the District 209 board vice president and a graduate of Proviso East, said that she was proud of the new training facility within her alma mater.

“This is a great day for Proviso,” Kelly said. “This is a truly phenomenal, state-of-the-art facility that provides excellent opportunities to our children. Our students now have the opportunity to work, learn and hone their skills in a true, professional-grade commercial kitchen. Our students will gain the skills, knowledge and work experience needed to become the best culinary artists of the future.”

The new culinary lab features a demonstration kitchen that includes industry-grade appliances and equipment.

Antoinette Rayburn, the manager of the college and career readiness programs within D209’s Office of Academics and Family Support, said that students in the culinary program will learn about industry basics, such as kitchen safety.

Rayburn said that at least two East students have already found entry-level positions at a five-star restaurant in Chicago.

The new Advanced Manufacturing Lab at West features two computer numerical control (CNC) milling machines and two CNC lathes that will help give students a basic foundation of work in the high-tech manufacturing industry.

Kate Foster, West’s College and Career Academy coordinator, said on Nov. 17 that the new lab will give students an edge in an industry that is in demand for new workers.

“Research has told us that manufacturing in our area is a thriving business,” Foster said. “We have students who have an opportunity to fill very in-demand occupations [amid a] declining work force due to retirement and folks who are aging out, so we are really thrilled to be able to provide this opportunity for our students.”

April Senase, who teaches advanced manufacturing at West, said that she got into the industry herself after being exposed to the field in high school.

“I left the industry to do this program at Proviso,” Senase said. “I got my start in high school, as well. I went to Lane Tech and we had a machine shop just like this. I got into manual machining and realized I liked it. It was something I had never been exposed to and if I didn’t have shop in that class, I would’ve never known about it.”

Senase said that she plans on drilling into students the importance of both hard skills and soft skills, such as being on time and communicating effectively. She said students will even be required to punch out of a time clock each day to reinforce the lesson.

 

The master plan encompasses possibly the most extensive capital improvement campaign in the district’s history and likely its costliest and lengthiest. District officials estimate that the entire plan could cost upwards of $100 million and could take nearly a decade to complete.

The two new spaces at East and West are part of the first phase of the D209’s facility master plan, which the school board approved in 2017. In total, the district budgeted roughly $77 million to fund phase one projects at all three of its campuses.

Before he left last year, former D209 Supt. Jesse Rodriguez laid out a three-phase capital funding plan that would give the district around $77 million in non-referendum funding over three to four years to pay for at least the initial stages of the full facilities master plan, which he said in 2018 would likely take at least a decade to fully implement.

The culinary lab is part of a $6.5 million first phase of work at East that also includes the relocation of the student parking lot from a space that is next to the high school’s First Avenue campus, as opposed to being across the street; the installation of a walking track where the former parking lot was once located; and the a range of life safety improvements, such as the replacement of the hot water storage tank.

The Advanced Manufacturing Lab at West is part of a $7.5 million first phase project at the high school that also includes the resurfacing of the North Parking Lot and the installation of new entrance and exit signage, among other work.

“What you’re sitting in, is about four-and-a-half years work come to fruition,” said D209 Board President Rodney Alexander. “And we’re not done yet.”