Forest Park’s District 91 school board got a preview of plans for the new Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math (STEAM) labs that will be built in currently underused spaces at Field-Stevenson Intermediate Elementary School and Forest Park Middle School, both at 925 Beloit Ave.

Some details are still being worked out – for example, the renderings didn’t show any color schemes because they haven’t been settled on yet – the plans were far enough along for Amy Tiberi, the architect for project design contractor Wight and Company, to give a presentation during the Dec. 8 board meeting. While the details vary to account for the students’ age differences, both rooms would feature areas where students can do experiments, a more casual learning and research area, and an auditorium-style seating area where students can make presentations. Each lab will also feature a quiet area with transparent walls where students can work in groups while still being visible to the teachers in the main lab.

Field-Stevenson and Forest Park Middle School proposed plans.

The design would be flexible enough to adopt to changes in technology, get as much use out of the space they have “in order to make this space multipurpose and multi-functional,” and accommodate the needs of students with sensory issues. The district is expected to select the contractors for construction and furniture in January, with the goal of having the labs up and running at the start of the 2023-2024 school year. 

The district has been developing plans for putting STEAM labs in every school – Field-Stevenson and Forest Park Middle schools are simply first on the list. Supt. Dr. Elizabeth Alvarez previously said the goal is not only to get students to do experiments and design concepts, but to work together. The idea is for kids to take ownership of what they create, whether it’s something they came up with on their own or as part of the group.

 Tiberi said Wight staff has been meeting with teachers and administrators to figure out where the labs would go and what kind of features they would have. They settled on putting the Field-Stevenson STEAM lab in what is now a staff lounge at the west end of the building. The plans have a quiet room in the southeast corner of the lab, the experiments area on the south side of the lab, a presentation area on the north side and the research area on the east side. Tiberi said some of the features they are considering are a Wordle wall and presentation area seats that would double as storage compartments.

The Forest Park Middle School lab would be located in the currently unused Home Economics classroom, which Tiberi said had the advantage of being at the northeast corner of the existing “cafetorium” auditorium/cafeteria space, “at the heart of the school.” The research area would be on the south side of the room, while the experiment area would be in the northwest portion and the presentation area would be at the northeast portion. The quiet room would be at the southwest corner, with the two transparent walls giving those inside a view of the entire lab. 

 Tiberi said designers were discussing putting 3-D printers along the experimental area wall, and moving the existing Computer Numerical Control machine, which can cut designs into various materials, to the northwest corner. For the presentation area, they are considering putting in a piece of furniture that looks like a horseshoe-shaped couch with a table students can sit at in the back. The staff would be able to utilize every inch of the wall in some way, and there will be overhead power outlets hanging over the experiment area tables. 

The project is expected to cost $1.944 million, with $200,000 of that covering furniture purchases. District 91’s 2023 budget allocated another $120,000 to hire the teachers to staff the labs. Tiberi said the goal is to start construction June 12 and finish it by Aug. 18, but given ongoing material shortages, it could take longer. If they need more time to finish up, she said, it shouldn’t interrupt the district operations. 

“Right now, this [timeline] is our best guess, with the market conditions we’re in,” Tiberi said. “I don’t have crystal ball. I wish I did.”