Waters Community Discusses Planned Annex Priorities

Parents and teachers met to discuss priorities for a planned new school annex building on Tuesday, November 13.

About 40 parents and teachers met Tuesday evening in the Waters School cafeteria to get an update on the status of planning for a new annex building and to gather priorities for the planned annex. The community meeting was prompted by a meeting scheduled for Friday with Ald. Ameya Pawar and representatives from Chicago Public Schools and the Public Building Commission to discuss a community input process.

Emceed by former Waters Local School Council member Darian Martinyuk, the meeting was led by LSC Members Greg Foster-Rice and Jason Rieger, LSC Chair Erica Smith and Principal Titia Kipp.

Martyniuk explained that by a process of elimination, the only suitable location for the new annex would be the northeast corner of the school campus. The parking lot must stay in place, the garden area and fields must remain untouched, and thus the “big kids” playground is where CPS will focus.

Late last week, surveyors were seen in that northeast corner, taking measurements. One parent spoke to a surveyor, Martyniuk said, and was shown CPS plans detailing a three-story building in the northeast corner. The parent wished to remain anonymous.

Parent Ron Dean, an architect who has worked on PBC projects in the past, suggested that planning will likely be finished by mid-December, since CPS has expressed an interest in beginning construction in March 2019. According to Dean, if construction begins in March, construction bids will need to be accepted in February, and construction bids will need to be put out by early January, leaving little time for additional planning and community input.

LSC Chair Erica Smith attended PBC’s monthly meeting on Tuesday afternoon, where architects for all the firms working on CPS annexes were present. Bailey Edward was announced as the architect of record for Waters Elementary, with New York firm, Acheson Doyle Partners Architects assisting.

LSC member Greg Foster-Rice reminded the group that PBC is not a decision-maker in the process, but rather just a contract manager, as they are tasked with constructing buildings for all Chicago and Cook County agencies. The real decision-maker would be CPS, and that is where the community should focus its efforts.

Principal Kipp then spoke about the planning process thus far. She, members of the LSC and other invited parents and teachers met last winter, when rumors first emerged that funding might be available for a new annex. This group assembled a list of priorities for new construction, which were then provided to Ald. Ameya Pawar and CPS.

“The preliminary drawings in July, had all of that in there. [But] no new gym, no auditorium,” said Kipp. “It’s unusual that an elementary school gets an auditorium. Everything else is on that list.”

“Then aren’t we happy?” said one parent in the audience. “Are we getting what we asked for? Are we just preemptively upset?”

“We didn’t hear much from July to October,” said Smith. And then plans for a school in the garden were announced without consulting with the community. “It’s a fool me once, shame on me. Fool me twice, shame on you situation. We’re meeting now because we want to be prepared this time.”

“But you’re right, it is positive. We’re very fortunate to be on that list [of schools getting an annex],” said Smith.

Slated as part of the improvements, said Kipp, is a replacement roof for the main school building, which is heavily patched and often leaks. She believes improvements to bathrooms in the main building are also part of the budget, but needed to double-check to be sure.

The complete budget for the project is set by the Board of Education, chimed in one parent in the audience. None of the budget or design points are set by Kipp or the LSC.

That’s true, said LSC member Rieger, but there’s something to be said for being prepared to put in your priorities. “We spoke with Jeff Jenkins, a member of the Coonley LSC [that got an annex recently]. At Coonley, they had a process where they negotiated with the PBC. They pushed for certain green spaces, things like that. We want to make sure we have a proper play space, to make sure there are ideas we can advocate for,” said Rieger.

Another parent asked, “If the school were to keep growing, how many general education classrooms would we need?”

“We’d need 28 classrooms if we were to grow a grade level,” by adding Pre-K, said Kipp. The school currently has 24 general education classrooms.

Smith said the group that met last winter had a long list of requests, including, “Additional wet labs, a maker space, greenhouse, dedicated 21st Century fine art classroom, music recording studio, multi-use space for performances and community events, full size gym, additional classrooms for pre-k. Additional modular classrooms for social services staff, ESL and diverse learners.”

“I would like a proper teacher lounge,” said one teacher in the audience.

Meeting attendees posted their priorities for various categories for an annex on sticky notes.

Attendees were then invited to post their ideas on sticky-notes so the LSC could collect them in preparation for Friday’s meeting with CPS officials.

After about twenty minutes, Martyniuk gathered the attendees together and reviewed the posted items. Among the most common were requests for a full-sized gym and better indoor and outdoor play spaces, said Martyniuk.

Parent Aaron Durnbaugh then pointed out, “The current annex was built with the garden and ecology as part of the design. If [Water’s] Ecology [program] is not reflected in this addition, it would be a disappointment.” Water’s ecology program was one of the reasons his family decided to move the neighborhood.

Martyniuk announced the attendees for Friday’s meeting: LSC Chair Erica Smith, Principal Titia Kipp, Pete Leki, Ald. Pawar, a representative from Waters Today, a representative from CPS and a representative from PBC.

“We will be there to present a united front,” said Martyniuk. “This is what our community, needs, wants out of this process. It may be, that at the meeting, we’ll hear that 4 of 5 items are already in the plans.”

“We need to push for small items that make a big difference for our community,” said Foster-Rice.

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