September 11 – With a desire to become a “destination district,” Decatur Public Schools have taken the first step in a long-range facility plan that begins with replacing the Johns Hill and Durfee Tech magnet schools.
At its Tuesday meeting, the DPS 61 Board of Education unanimously voted to submit Health-Life-Safety amendments to the state in order to initialize the Building Replacement Process for both schools. A new Johns Hill school would be built in the vicinity of the current one, while additions at Muffley, Franklin, Parsons and South Shores elementary schools would replace the lost space from Durfee.
“The district can’t look the same five years from now as it does today if we’re going to be doing business in a better way and better serve our kids,” said Superintendent Dr. Paul Fregeau.
If the Illinois State Board of Education approves the Building Replacement Process, DPS will receive $33 million for the projects. The plan calls for the new Johns Hill to open and Durfee to close for the 2020-21 school year, with the current Johns Hill to remain open during construction.
Along with modernizing the facilities and upgrading safety, the primary goals of the four-year building plan are to increase the capacity of programs with wait lists and to have air conditioning in all school buildings. With its increased capacity, the new Johns Hill will remain a magnet school.
Fregeau’s extensive plan has Stephen Decatur becoming the district’s only middle school in 2019-20, with Thomas Jefferson undergoing renovations. The following year, the Montessori programs at Enterprise and Garfield would combine and relocate to Thomas Jefferson.
With 22 school buildings for close to 9,000 students, DPS wants to reduce the number of facilities to maximize its resources. During an appearance on Byers & Co. earlier Tuesday, Fregeau said the district is the 26th largest in the state in terms of enrollment but 12th in number of buildings.
Plans for 2021-22 include turning six elementary schools into three, with Baum merging into Muffley, Oak Grove into Franklin and Stevenson into Parsons.
We had to consider a lot of factors and we had some very intense discussions,” said Fregeau. “We landed on a plan we think is great for kids. We think it addresses the needs that the board gave us. Our district will be a better place when this is done.”
In other business, the Board tabled a vote on approving a contract for a principal mentoring program. Board members Beth Nolan and Beth Creighton voiced concerns about the source of funding for the program.