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Liberty Intermediate expansion ready to welcome 4th graders in fall

BOURBONNAIS — When students return to Liberty Intermediate in August, they will find their school a bit different than when they left it.

The $7 million project to expand the school with 15 new classrooms, additional gym space, staff offices and pick-up and drop-off lanes is complete save for final punch list items.

The expansion has added more than 40,000 square feet of space to the school at 1690 Career Center Road.

“We have the building to where we can start putting stuff in there,” Chief School Business Official Dennis Crawford said. “Now it’s a matter of just getting our teachers in place, coming back through and waxing. ... We’ll be set to go by the time school starts.”

Bourbonnais Elementary School District 53 has been using Liberty for its fifth- and sixth-graders. For the 2020-21 school year, the district’s fourth-graders will attend Liberty in the new classrooms. Interior doors separate the fourth-grade hallway from fifth- and sixth-grade hallways.

The expansion will free up space in the other elementaries as well; three of the schools will now host kindergarten through third grades instead of keeping students until fourth grade.

Liberty’s total student count will increase from about 550 to 800 students, but the actual number of students in the building will likely be lower.

Superintendent Adam Ehrman said the district is currently surveying families to find out how many would want their children to continue remote learning in the fall. The district plans to offer both an in-person and a remote option, he said.

Ehrman also noted that this upcoming school year is a good time to have extra space to work with, as social distancing requirements will be in place.

“The positive effect is it increases the space that you have,” he said. “Obviously the planning was way pre-COVID on this, but sometimes things work out to be a happy accident.”

New features include a three-lane pick-up and drop-off area for school buses and a separate loop where parents can pull up so traffic will not back up onto Career Center Road.

The expansion also includes an atrium where flexible seating can be placed for a collaborative student work area and an outdoor courtyard with artificial turf grass that is accessible from the main hallway and the special education classroom. New classrooms include nooks for student materials and numerous electrical outlets for students to charge their Chromebooks.

The new gymnasium is adjacent to the old one and increases the school’s capacity for physical education classes by one third. An additional room that could be used for choir would be accessible to all grades without crossing over into the fourth grade hallway.

The Bourbonnais Elementary School Board approved the expansion last March in anticipation of job growth in the area and the need to accommodate larger enrollment numbers. Job growth was expected because of CSL Behring, Nucor Steel and other future developments.

“We anticipated increases in enrollment and wanted to be ahead of it,” Crawford said.

About $2 million was set aside to fund the project from the sale of Robert Frost Elementary School in 2016 and the operating funds saved since closing the school, Crawford said.

“The district purposely was able to set that money aside for future building an expansion, trying to be fiscally responsible with the needs of the district and not needing to bond as much money because we were able to save it internally,” he said.

The district also got through the project using only about $148,000 of $300,000 set aside for contingencies.

An increase in property taxes was not needed to fund the project.

“There won’t be really that much of a change the community will see in taxes at all, and they’ve got a brand new facility,” Crawford said.

Hours extended for Kankakee vehicle sticker sales

Daily Journal staff report

KANKAKEE — The city of Kankakee has set additional hours at its drive-thru location in downtown Kankakee for residents to obtain their vehicle stickers.

Lines have often been long in the drive-thru service set up by the city in the former Midland States Bank, 310 S. Schuyler. The leased location’s three drive-thru windows are a way of limiting face-to-face interaction as part of the social distancing recommendations.

“I drove past the other day and the line was shorter,” said Kankakee Mayor Chasity Wells-Armstrong. “The wait tends to be more manageable in the middle weeks [of the month] rather than the first and last week. We appreciate everyone’s patience during this new process while we continue to navigate through the pandemic.”

Those who still need to purchase their vehicle sticker can continue to do so during the city’s regular business hours of 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, but now can also do so from 4 to 8 p.m. on July 21, 23, 28 and 30. Sticker sales also will be available from 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday, July 25.

Staff ask that residents bring their vehicle sticker notice, vehicle registration or other documents to confirm the vehicle identification number or license plate of the vehicle.

The cost for registration is $35 per vehicle, if completed by July 31. Per city ordinance, the cost will increase to $70 per vehicle on Aug. 1 and tickets will begin to be issued, according to a press release. Sales will continue at the drive-thru for at least a couple weeks after the end of July.

The vehicle stickers are a revenue source for the city, raising about $450,000 annually to support the general fund budget, including providing full-time police and fire services.

Bradley elementary schools plan to bring kids back for shortened days

BRADLEY — Bradley Elementary School District 61 is bringing students back for in-person learning five days per week, but school hours will be shortened and families will have the option of completely remote learning.

The Bradley Elementary School Board reviewed a handful of back-to-school options and indicated preference toward the five-day-per-week model during a meeting Thursday.

Under this model, students will physically attend school for four hours each day and complete about an hour of classwork after school with teachers on call.

Teachers will resume a traditional grading system.

School hours will be 7:30 to 11:30 a.m. for Bradley Central, 8 a.m. to noon for Bradley East and 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. for Bradley West.

Students will get grab-and-go breakfasts they can take back to their classrooms to eat and grab-and-go lunches to take home after school.

Superintendent Scott Goselin said the shortened school days are being implemented in part because some classrooms do not have air conditioning, making wearing masks for long hours difficult.

“We’re going to try to shorten the day as much as we can to get the kids some air time to get those masks off,” he said.

He also said that since the state is recommending a return to in-person instruction, a five-day-per-week schedule seemed like the best option.

“We miss the kids in the classrooms. They miss us,” Goselin said. “The more that we get them in the classrooms, to get back as normal as possible, that’s what we’re shooting for.”

Families that do not feel comfortable sending their children back to school yet can opt for completely remote learning. After making this choice, the students would be committed to remote learning for at least one trimester.

“We’ve been listening. We understand that families are just having a tough time doing masks … and that’s OK,” Goselin said.

The board did not vote on the plan Thursday, but Goselin said the district will go in this direction. He said he would be communicating details with families in the coming days, and the board will vote on a finalized plan in August.

Also on Thursday, the board approved a 2020-21 school year calendar that brings students back to school Aug. 24 and dismisses them for summer May 26.

Board President Terrie Golwitzer said the district will follow Illinois Department of Public Health guidelines, including the requirement of face masks for staff and students.

“When we take this position as a board member, we take an oath that we will follow both federal and Illinois laws, and that is an Illinois mandate,” she said. “We have no options.”

Goselin said the district will also be enforcing social distancing as much as possible, enhancing cleaning and sanitation efforts throughout the schools and prohibiting gatherings over 50, per Illinois Department of Public Health guidelines.

The district will also require students and staff to self-certify they are symptom free before entering the buildings. The district is still figuring out exactly how self-certification would work, Goselin said.

Multiple options for a blended learning model in which students would alternate remote and in-person learning days were also presented Thursday, but most board members said they preferred the first option.

Bourbonnais studies setting up second business district

BOURBONNAIS — Bourbonnais trustees are discussing the possible creation of a second business district that aims in part to alleviate traffic congestion.

The proposed district would be along North Convent Street (U.S. 45/52), running from William Latham Sr. Drive north to Hilltop Drive. The district would encompass 93 parcels on 146 acres. In that area are 75 buildings, including residential and commercial properties.

State law allows for municipalities to create such zones.

According to state guidelines, a study must find the current area is blighted by such things as inadequate or antiquated infrastructure, inadequate street layout, unsanitary or unsafe conditions, impedes the provision of housing accommodations or constitutes an economic or social liability, an economic under-utilization of the area, or a menace to the public health, safety, morals or welfare.

Prior to adopting the plan, a public hearing will be held. A hearing was scheduled for Monday but was postponed. Village Administrator Mike Van Mill said they hope to reschedule the hearing for next month.

If approved, this would be the village’s second business district.

The first — named the Bourbonnais Business District — encompasses an area north of Larry Power Road to the Bourbonnais Parkway and around 318 exit of Interstate 57. The ordinance creating the district was adopted in July 2018.

The district is funded by a 1 percent sales tax making it 7.25 percent. The tax only applies to businesses in the district and has accumulated $151,000, said Tara Latz the village’s finance director.

The Convent District’s projected costs are anticipated to be $18 million, according to a report prepared by Economic Development Resources (EDR) of St. Louis. They were hired to work with the village on the Bourbonnais Business District. Of that total, $400,000 is to cover the cost of studies, surveys, development of plans and specifications, plan administration and other professional services. The remainder will be used for the projects that will make improvements to infrastructure and businesses.

All would be funded through an increase of up to 1 percent in the village’s current sales tax rate of 6.25 percent in the proposed district.

Mayor Paul Schore said the district has been talked about for a while.

“There is a problem with traffic getting in and out of the businesses,” he said.

In a 22-page plan prepared by EDR, there are 32 private points of entry and exit in a 2,700-foot stretch of Convent between Bethel Drive and Latham Drive. There are also three-right-of-way intersections serving 31 businesses on both sides of the road.

Each point was separated by an average of approximately 76 feet, according to the study. Research shows the recommended distance be between 300 and 500 feet.

Information provided by Bourbonnais Police Department showed that more than 500 accidents occurred in the area between 2014 and 2019.

The district is also considered “a gateway to the community,” Van Mill said. “Things are moving in the village. We’re evaluating our land-use policy and economic development plan.

“There are a couple things we are looking at, attracting people and businesses and expanding on our existing village. Traffic is a big concern. There are places now that traffic gets backed up. We want to control that now in this new district rather than causing issues now rather than the future.”

Traffic management is a priority.

“We don’t want to be a victim of our success,” Van Mill said. “We want to keep traffic flowing and to have access to current and new businesses.”

Van Mill said the village has been in communication with Illinois Department of Transportation officials about getting a proposed plan to expand Convent to five lanes from just north of Larry Power Road to the Bourbonnais Parkway.

“We want to be able to use all the tools we have available to entice development,” Van Mill said.