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School District 300 votes to move headquarters

Oak Ridge School Lake Marian Road Carpentersville was made mobile teaching units serve small number special educatiproblem-behavior students. Now lhas

Oak Ridge School, on Lake Marian Road in Carpentersville, was made of mobile teaching units to serve a small number of special education and problem-behavior students. Now the land has been sold to a preschool, and in June the students will be relocated to what is now the School District 300 administration building, attached to Carpentersville Middle School. | Dave Gathman/Sun-Times Media

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Updated: March 27, 2014 6:24AM

ALGONQUIN — In its most controversial decision in months, the board of Community Unit School District 300 decided Monday night to move its headquarters temporarily to Hampshire and then permanently to Algonquin.

In a series of unanimous 7-0 votes near the end of a three-hour meeting, the board members voted:

During spring break this year, to move two-thirds of the central offices from Carpentersville Middle School in Carpentersville to unused space in Hampshire High School. The other one-third of the offices will remain dispersed at various schools throughout the district.

To remodel the former central office site to receive the 78 special-education and problem-behavior students who now attend Oak Ridge School, on Lake Marian Road in Carpentersville. The school district sold Oak Ridge School for $750,000 last summer to the Children’s Home and Aid Society, which plans to build a preschool there. The Oak Ridge students will move in at the beginning of summer.

To hire an architect to design a new building to house the central offices. The new headquarters will be built adjacent to the district’s bus garage (and near Jacobs High School) at Golden Eagle Drive and Harnish Drive in Algonquin.

District 300 officials expect that building to cost $5 million to $5.5 million. When it is complete next December, the offices that moved to Hampshire High will move into the new building, as will the one-third of the central offices that now are dispersed in other schools.

About 70 residents and employees stayed until the vote was taken and nine spoke to the board during the public comment section — some in favor of the moves, some against them and some complaining about other issues.

Other approaches

Administrators argued against suggestions from the public that instead of building a new central office building, the district ought to keep the offices in Hampshire High, rent a building in one of the area’s business parks, or even rent or buy one of several large stores that are vacant in the Dundee/Carpentersville/Algonquin area.

Rachel Garrett, an Oak Ridge teacher, read a letter from a sixth-grade Oak Ridge student who said the physical education room there is so small kids call it “the Shoebox.” “I think we deserve a new building we can be proud of,” the student wrote.

But Cheryl Anderley of West Dundee said the new administrative office location near Jacobs High School is not the center of the school district, but is “really going west and way north.” She urged the board to move the offices instead to West Dundee.

“We have a building available,” she said, apparently referring to the Best Buy store that closed there recently or the Target store that is about to close.

Billita Jacobsen of Carpentersville, a district employee, said that before spending $5 million on a new administration building, the district should repair Lakewood School in Carpentersville. She said Lakewood has ceiling tiles full of holes and cracks, holes in the carpet and a restroom “reminiscent of what you’d see in an old gas station.”

But in a lengthy defense of the proposed changes, Superintendent Michael Bregy said Oak Ridge School was set up during the 1990s with only mobile units and was never intended to be a permanent solution to the need for an independent special-needs school.

He said the district has been looking for someone to buy the site for eight to 10 years. When the preschool offer suddenly came in last summer, he said, that set in action a series of “domino” changes that included the need to move the central offices.

Other real estate

Before adopting the idea of building a new headquarters in Algonquin, Bregy said, school board members and administrators explored the possibility of buying or renting the former Sears Holdings building in Sleepy Hollow or one of several office buildings near the middle of the district. But all were either too expensive, too small or too big, Bregy said.

Board Member Dave Alessio said the secrecy required for real estate negotiations prevents rental prices, sales prices and remodeling costs from being mentioned, but some possible office sites they looked at turned out to be “not worth the cost.”

“At first we didn’t realize the renovations would cost so much. But as the alternatives fell away, we ended up back with using district-owned property,” Alessio said.

Board member Joe Stevens said, “I want people to know that one of the big box stores that was mentioned tonight we did look at, and it is not available.”

Alessio said that if the district moved its offices into a vacant store, that would take that store out of the sales tax and property tax base of whatever village the store was in. He said that would be unfair to that village. In fact, Stevens said, the tax pain could keep village authorities from approving the zoning changes that would be needed.

As for keeping the offices in Hampshire High permanently, Bregy said, the space there that can be used for offices from March through December is only about half as big as the offices the administrative staff now occupies at Carpentersville Middle School.

He said Hampshire High is located in the extreme west end of the sprawling school district. And according to population projections, he said, the attendance at Hampshire will rise in coming years, requiring even more of that building’s space to be turned into active classrooms.

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