Austin public schools will see millions of dollars for improvements

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Austin-area schools are slated to receive a little more than $12 million as part of Chicago Public Schools’ $110 million and five-year capital improvement plan announced earlier this month that will address immediate health and safety concerns for its public schools.

There are currently more than 200 projects planned or underway as part of the 2013 fiscal year capital proposal and projects in the pipeline from last fiscal year, according to a CPS press release.

At least one Austin school is getting more than just health and safety renovations.

Spencer Academy, 214 N. Lavernge Ave., received $32,190 to remove three classroom walls to make one large room for its Teach To One technology program. Construction will start in June and is anticipated to finish in September.

Separately, Spencer will receive up to $475,000 for other renovations to accommodate the Teach To One technology program. The project will kick off in July and is expected to finish in December 2013.

Spencer’s Principal Shawn Jackson said next school year, Spencer will be one of three public schools in Chicago to offer the new program called New Classrooms.

How it works is the school will have 90-minute blocks of math programming for its sixth- through eighth-grade students. All the students in the various grades will be taught in one, large classroom that’s equipped with state-of-the-art technology.

Three to four math teachers will teach roughly 75 to 80 students at a time, Jackson said.

“What you are seeing with the capital improvements is that they had to create a classroom that can function as this large learning center for math,” Jackson said.

The capital improvement funds from CPS will help to create the designated math wing for the school.

During the 90-minute blocks, some students will receive one-on-one instruction time with the teacher, while others will be floating around to different work sections for various assignments. Some students will receive instruction time with tutors via the web-based conference program Skype.

Every day the students will take an assessment to determine their math level, and daily lesson plans are created as a result of the assessment. The students will work on something new every day, Jackson said.

Jackson said he likes that the program is “adaptable.”

“We’re able to hone in on students and their weaknesses and cater instructions to their specific needs,” he said.

To the best of Jackson’s knowledge, so far only Chicago and New York – where a similar program originated – are implementing this type of math-teaching method.

The school’s Assistant Principal LeViis Haney said the hands-on Teach To One technology program will be “very intense.”

Leslie Lewis Elementary will receive the most money out of the Austin schools to repair its deteriorating roof.

Construction has started at Lewis, at 1431 N. Leamington Ave., to replace the school’s structural system. The cost to replace the building’s structure is about $8.4 million and will be completed in November 2012.

Michele Clark High School, 5101 W. Harris St., will  also receive a large chuck of the repair funds going to Austin schools.

CPS is in the planning stages of investing $2.1 million for upgrades to Clark’s three information technology labs, two standard computer labs, auditorium improvements, and upgrades to the girls’ and boys’ locker rooms, drinking fountains and bathrooms. The project is part of specialized Science Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) curriculum the school will offer to incoming freshman students beginning this fall. Lake View High School on the North Side is receiving a similar investment.

The public high school is also slated to receive $25,000 for capital improvements from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, although it’s unclear from CPS’ web site how that money will be used.

Brunson Math and Science Specialty Elementary, 932 N. Central Ave., is slated to receive $187,580 to build a new play lot. The project is expected to start construction in June and will be completed Aug. 12.

Construction is underway at Hay Elementary Community Academy, 1018 N. Laramie Ave., to bring its athletic field up to regulations. The project costs $116,736 and is to be completed May 31.

Ronald E. McNair Elementary, 4820 W. Walton St., received $25,000 for capital improvements from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity. The state department awarded CPS with a total of $15 million in 2010 for school capital improvement projects, which was dispersed among various schools.

Henry H. Nash Elementary, 4837 W. Erie St., was awarded up to $13,000 to upgrade the school’s main building and annex to accommodate the co-share of the buildings for Nash and Kipp/ACT Charter School, which the school board approved earlier this year. Some improvements include new windows and interior renovations such as flooring, painting and elevator upgrades. The school will also see a new play lot. Construction is anticipated to start in June and will be completed in November.

Frederick Douglass Academy High School, 543 N. Waller Ave., will receive $8,000, but not until the 2016 budget year as the project’s in the planning stages for a mechanical system and boiler room renovation. The project is estimated to start in July 2015 and will be completed in June 2017.

Catherine Jones, community representative on the school’s Local School Council, said she wonders why Douglass is slated to receive such a small amount of money and at a later date compared to the other Austin-area schools.

“That’s not much,” Jones said. “There’s a lot of work that needs to be done.”

She said the LSC and administration at Douglass have not been vocal enough with CPS about more pressing issues at the school.

Jones said the classrooms need to be painted and students need more lockers. Also, the school’s auditorium needs a “whole new makeover,” she said, adding that it’s outdated and has bleachers instead of chairs.

Although Jones was unaware of issues with the boiler room, she said she wonders why CPS couldn’t fix it sooner rather than the 2016 budget year.

“Why not now?” she said.

Austin Business and Entrepreneurship School, 231 N. Pine Ave., received $228,095 for a renovation to its swimming pool. The project is expected to kick off in June and will be completed in December.

Robert Emmet Elementary, 5500 W. Madison St., was awarded $310,505 to repair its damaged chimney stack. The construction is slated to start in June and will be completed in October.

Separately, Emmet received $14, 604 to address masonry issues with the exterior of the building. The repairs will start in June and will be completed in November.

Jones, whose children used to attend the school and who recently ran for the school’s LSC, said although these fixes to Emmet’s building exterior are important, the school isn’t getting the “right” improvements.

The school doesn’t have a lunch room, she said, so students have to eat lunch in the gym.

She said the gym is cleaned up before and after lunch, but it’s “still unsanitary to me,” Jones said.

Also, she said the field house, which has peeling paint and is a haven for rodents, should be torn out or rebuilt.

“Fix it up,” she said. “We could have meetings in there.”

Horatio May Elementary Community Academy, 512 S. Lavernge Ave., received $149, 176 to upgrade its athletic fields. Construction is already underway, and the field will be completed in May.

Finally, George Rogers Clark Elementary, 1045 S. Monitor Ave., is also up for a $25,000 capital improvement grant from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.

For more information, check out CPS’ interactive map with all the public schools that will see some of the money for improvements.

If you have a comment or concern about the various projects, public input will be available both through online and at public hearings, which will take place at locations and dates to be announced at a later date.

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