A1 A1
St. George Elementary expansion brings school together

BOURBONNAIS — Now that the 14,500-square-foot addition to St. George Elementary School is complete, the school has gotten rid of its mobile classrooms, bringing all teachers and students together under one roof for the first time in years.

The preK-8 school in rural Bourbonnais, which has about 400 students enrolled this year, now has eight additional classrooms, a flexible learning space, an outdoor classroom, and other upgrades made possible by a $6.93 million referendum voters passed in April 2019.

Superintendent Helen Boehrnsen said the project was completed “right on time and right on budget,” with the new spaces ready for students’ return in August.

St. George CCSD 258, which consists only of the elementary school, held a reception to celebrate the project’s completion and gave tours to community members last week.

Construction was slated to start in May 2020, but with students learning remotely at the onset of the pandemic, the project was able to get a jumpstart at the end of March 2020, Boehrnsen said.

“That extra time helped,” she said. “It was always supposed to be a 15- to 18-month project.”

Construction was split into three phases, which were completed in August 2020 and July and August 2021, respectively.

The project was completed by Johnson-Downs Construction of Kankakee and Tria Architecture of Burr Ridge.

The original school is now almost 100 years old, having been built in 1925; it underwent several expansions dating back to 1957, 1971, 1995 and 2004.

The seamless blending of the older parts of the school with its new, modern spaces was intentional, Boehrnsen said.

“You really cannot tell the difference between what was built 15 years ago and what was just built, and that is because we did everything we could to match the brick, the floors, everything,” she said. “The goal was to not make it look like an addition, but to make it look like it had always been here.”

The entire school is also illuminated by brand new lighting, and all of the hallways and rooms have been repainted.

“During COVID, when we closed down, my guys were like, ‘We can’t clean the floors because of the construction,’ and so I said, ‘Let’s paint.’”

Rooms have also been renovated and repurposed around the school, such as a former custodian’s closet that was expanded to become a room for the technology director with storage space for the school’s servers.

The new wing has eight new classrooms where second- through fifth-grade classes are located, as well as a new special education room and a speech therapist room.

“This is the first time some of these teachers have ever been in the building, because they were in mobile units before,” Boehrnsen said.

There’s also a new flexible learning space furnished with a variety of comfortable, flexible seating; it connects to an enclosed courtyard with soft rubber flooring that’s being used as an outdoor classroom.

Even the color scheme of these areas was designed to bring a sense of calmness to the school day, she said, pointing out the earth tones inside and blue outside.

“Instead of children sitting in rows or being confined to the classroom, this gives them that opportunity to get out and be able to work collaboratively in a more relaxed space,” she said.

Additional changes can be seen outside, where the playground equipment has been moved to the back of the school for safety, and a basketball court and foursquare court have been added. New sidewalks also allow for safer walking paths outside.

“It feels like a school campus now, where you have the playground and soccer field and softball field,” Boehrnsen said. “It just feels like [this project] completed it.”

Perhaps the most notable difference outside is the absence of students walking back and forth to mobile classrooms. About 100 students used to attend class in the school’s four mobile classrooms, which had been in use since 2012.

“Teachers will tell you that they feel more a part of the building now because they are in the building, and the kids feel that way, too,” she said. “The students feel that now they are a part of and not separated from what’s going on.”

Principal Christine Johnston, who has been at the school for seven years, added that the mobile classrooms created difficulties and safety concerns during inclement weather.

“The teachers are thrilled to be here and very excited to have their own fixed classroom,” Johnston said. “We have been able to build more of a culture of inclusion with everybody in the building.”

She pointed out that one fifth-grade teacher had always been in mobile classrooms until this year.

“He never had a fixed classroom, so it was a dramatic experience,” Johnston said.

Leighann Delabre, a fourth-grade teacher who has taught at St. George Elementary for 16 years, said she appreciates having all the students and teachers inside, as she can see students she taught the previous year and collaborate with her colleagues more easily.

“This is the first time that third, fourth and fifth grades have been together as an educational unit,” Delabre said. “This is the first time we’ve all been under one roof in the entire time that I’ve been here, so this is kind of huge.”

Pioneer schoolhouse to be restored in Bourbonnais

BOURBONNAIS — The restoration of the original log cabin schoolhouse in Bourbonnais now seems certain.

At the annual Fleur-de-Lis Celebration Dinner of the Bourbonnais Grove Historical Society held Friday at the Kankakee Country Club, Bourbonnais Mayor Paul Schore announced that Aqua Illinois will make a $100,000 grant toward the rebuilding of the pioneer school. Bourbonnais is currently in the process of selling its wastewater system to Aqua.

In addition, the French Heritage Society of Chicago will make a $5,000 grant toward the project. That grant was announced during Friday's dinner by Lisa Kahn of the society's Chicago chapter. It will also kick off grants from the other 11 French Heritage societies in the United States and in Paris.

That funding adds to $62,000 already raised toward the project by the historical society.

Schore told the audience Friday that he hopes to see the foundation for the building completed before winter, construction in the spring, and a dedication during the 2022 Bourbonnais Friendship Festival.

The historic schoolhouse will be located on Stratford Drive East, adjacent to the LeTourneau Home. The plan is to have both structures open for tours given by historical society volunteers.

The original logs used in the schoolhouse are now being stored at the Village of Bourbonnais Public Works Department. Dr. Jim Paul, president of the Bourbonnais Grove Historical Society, said the logs will constitute approximately 60 percent of the new structure. Paul said all remaining work will keep in a historic tone, with the roof, windows and even the chinking between the logs done in a manner similar to the years of 1837-1848 when the schoolhouse was in operation.

After 1848, the building served a variety of other uses and additions. Recently it had been a family home. No matter its usage, the historic nature of the building was always known, Paul said.

He said the historical society will now focus on getting appropriate items for the interior, including books from the schoolhouse era. Portraits of the current presidents then would include Martin Van Buren, William Henry Harrison, John Tyler and James Polk. The American flag over those years grew from 25 to 30 stars as Michigan, Florida, Texas, Iowa and Wisconsin were added.

Paul said donations to buy historical items are still welcome and needed. You can donate online at bourbonnaishistory.org or by mailing a check payable to BGHS to P.O. Box 311, Bourbonnais, IL 60914.

Some 74 people attended the celebration dinner Friday at the Kankakee Country Club. The fourth annual Fleur-de-Lis Award of Excellence was given to Carl Moran, a Voyageur re-enactor and a past president of the society.

Honored guests included Berangere Travard, the French Consule Generale Adjointe, and Genevieve Pocius, Business Development Officer for the government of Quebec in the Midwest. Charles Balesi and Waltraud Schuller organized the dinner and Balesi served as master of ceremonies. Paul entertained with a first-person account of the life of Kankakee County pioneer Noel LeVasseur.

Proposed streetscape project part of 'Imagine Bourbonnais' initiative

BOURBONNAIS — The Village of Bourbonnais is turning its attention to the next project of its “Imagine Bourbonnais” initiative.

And just like it did with the first proposed project — a Community Campus Plan, which was introduced in the fall of 2019 — the village is seeking input on its Northern Gateway Streetscape Improvement Plan.

Including areas along Bourbonnais Parkway, North Convent Street and West Burns Road, the plan aims “to create a cohesive design reflecting the positive attributes of the village, increase pedestrian connectivity and stimulate economic development,” according to a press release from the village.

Residents and stakeholders of the village are invited to share their opinions through an online survey, which is now available on the village’s website at villageofbourbonnais.com, as well as its Facebook and Twitter pages. There were more than 3,000 survey responses for the community plan project.

That plan is currently in the design phase with a projected groundbreaking in summer 2022.

“We received such an amazing response for the first ‘Imagine Bourbonnais’ Community Campus project,” Bourbonnais Mayor Paul Schore said. “We want to provide additional opportunities for public input and strongly encourage involvement for the new Streetscape Improvement Plan.”

Assistant administrator Laurie Cyr added that the streetscape plan is the village’s opportunity to “create a sense of place for residents and visitors as they enter from the Bourbonnais Parkway Interchange and travel along North Convent and Burns Road.”

To learn more about the community development project or take part in the survey, visit villageofbourbonnais.com.

Supreme Court extends its eviction order

SPRINGFIELD — The Illinois Supreme Court on Tuesday extended its order limiting judgments in certain eviction cases to Oct. 3, putting it in line with the governor’s latest executive order.

The only thing changed in the Supreme Court order was the date it is set to expire, from Sept. 18 to Oct. 3. It still prevents dispositive motions, trials on the merits or judgments in residential eviction proceedings against a “covered person.” Eviction cases can otherwise proceed as normal.

Covered persons include those who expect to earn less than $99,000 individually or $198,000 in a joint-filing household, if they’ve experienced financial hardships due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The tenant must also certify they are making “best efforts to make timely partial payments that are as close to the full payment” as “circumstances permit.”

An eviction case can be exempt from the order if the landlord can prove they shared the necessary documentation with the tenant but did not receive proof that the tenant qualified as a covered person. Landlords can also seek a judgment if a rental aid application has been denied or if the tenant refused to apply for one.

In a news release, the court said the extension will allow more renters to apply for aid through a court-based rental assistance program which launched earlier this month and received $60 million in funding.

That program would allow a tenant to receive up to 12 months of past-due rent and three months in future rent, provided they can prove a loss of income due to COVID-19.

The Supreme Court has required that any summons in an eviction case must be accompanied by a form informing the tenant and landlord of the court-based program. It includes information on the program, what documentation is needed and the web address for the court-based aid, ilrpp.ihda.org. The Illinois Housing Development Authority call center can be reached at 866-454-3571.

The governor’s order, which he extended Friday, prevents law enforcement from enforcing an eviction of a covered person.

Assistance may also still be available in certain areas through the Illinois Department of Human Services and the IHDA, the two state agencies overseeing disbursement of federal funding, at illinoisrentalassistance.org/providers.

In a statement Monday, Pritzker’s office noted Illinois paid out more than $230 million in federal funds in 2020 and has made more than $500 million available this year for rental assistance programs.

“While the eviction moratorium has kept families suffering hardship from losing their homes during the pandemic, these programs and additional resources will ensure families have a roof over their heads while they regain their financial footing into the future,” Alex Hanns, a Pritzker spokesperson, said in an email.

“As we continue with the planned sunset of the eviction moratorium in coordination with the court system, the Illinois Housing Development Authority will continue to review the pipeline of completed applications, and the Illinois Department of Human Services will continue to accept applications for additional rental assistance until funding runs out,” he added.

The funds come from the federal government, which means applicants must be under certain income limits as defined by the U.S. Treasury. Those earning 80 percent of the area median income or less are eligible. That threshold differs based on the county, ranging from $35,700 in Alexander County to $52,200 in Cook County. It goes up about $5,000-$6,000 for each additional person in the household.

Free legal assistance may be accessed through Eviction Help Illinois by visiting evictionhelpillinois.org or calling 855-631-0811.{span class=”print_trim”}

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government and distributed to more than 400 newspapers statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.