NORTH CENTER — More than 100 people packed the Coonley School gymnasium Thursday night for their first look at plans for a $16.5 million addition to the elementary.
"We've talked about this for a very, very, very long time," said Principal Greg Zurawski. "Our hopes and wishes are going to be met."
Construction on the annex, which will contain 12 classrooms, a kitchen and multipurpose room, is slated to begin in November. The new structure is scheduled to be ready for occupancy in January 2015, according to Erin Lavin Carbonargi, executive director of the Public Building Commission, which is overseeing the project.
The annex can't come soon enough for Coonley, which had to send pre-k students to McPherson Elementary this year for lack of room to house the youngsters. More students will be sent offsite in the 2014 school year while waiting for the addition to open.
Though the school currently has just one seventh-grade and one eighth-grade class, lower grades have three or four classes each. Coonley's existing building only has 22 classrooms.
To accommodate the influx of students, Coonley converted its computer lab to a classroom and a science lab serves as a homeroom, according to Doug Mulderink, chairman of Coonley's Local School Council. There's no dedicated room for music.
"We use every space we have," he said. "We need more classrooms."
Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th) has been working to secure Tax Increment Finance funds for an addition since taking office in 2011.
"It took a lot of moving parts to get here," said the alderman. "We have to be mindful that people are still struggling with school closings. The politics here are very delicate."
Though parents asked whether air conditioning planned for the new building could be extended to the older structure, particularly the gymnasium, Pawar noted there was little wiggle room in the project's budget.
Between additions at Coonley and Bell Elementary, upgrades to Sulzer Library, playgrounds at Ravenswood, McPherson and Audubon, and improvements to Clark and Welles parks, "I'm draining this TIF district for the next five to six years," he said. "We need to make sure we do our best to keep within the budget."
Attendees were largely pleased with the plan for the addition, which also encompasses converting the school's existing kitchen and dining hall into classrooms once the new kitchen and multipurpose room are functional. The annex will connect to the southwest portion of Coonley, rising up between a parking lot and baseball field.
The most common complaint actually had nothing to do with the new building and everything to do with the way some parents say CPS bungled the shift of pre-k students, raising concerns about the way overcrowding would be handled in 2014. Parents said they weren't notified until Aug. 5 that pre-k was being moved to McPherson.
"We know it's an urgent issue. We know pre-k dragged out over the summer," responded Craig Benes, chief area officer of the Chicago Public Schools Ravenswood-
Parents suggested that the shuttered Courtenay Elementary, located within walking distance of many Coonley families, would be a desirable solution.
"I can't comment on the viability of any one option," said Benes. "All options are being looked at."
Pressed to provide a time frame for when decisions about 2014 would be made, Benes promised to have an answer regarding a timeline within a week.