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Local

Wheaton's Early Learning Center project moves forward

District 200 set to approve construction bids in August

The Wheaton-Warrenville Community Unit School District 200 Board of Education continues to move forward in building a new early learning center on the site of the current Jefferson Early Childhood Center.
The Wheaton-Warrenville Community Unit School District 200 Board of Education continues to move forward in building a new early learning center on the site of the current Jefferson Early Childhood Center.

WHEATON – A project to build a new early learning center on the site of the current Jefferson Early Childhood Center in Wheaton is progressing.

At their July 11 meeting, members of the Wheaton-Warrenville Community Unit School District 200 Board of Education voted to release bids for the early childhood center project. The proposed new 41,544-square-foot building would have 14 classrooms. Cost is estimated at $17 million.

As anticipated, the bids would be opened in early August and be brought before board members at their Aug. 15 meeting. If bids come in as expected, ground could be broken for the new facility in late August.

Jefferson serves students with special needs as required by state and federal law. About two-thirds of Jefferson students have some type of special need or disability, and one-third of students are typically developing students who pay tuition to attend the school.

As proposed, the building would be ready for occupancy by August 2019. The existing school would be demolished during summer 2019.

Last October, the board decided not to proceed with building a new early learning center at Graf Park following public opposition.

The issue was discussed during the Oct. 11 board meeting.

"I don't see any reason, particularly when you look at cost, that we should look at anything other than a standalone building at the existing Jefferson site," board member Jim Mathieson had said, to the loud applause of those opposed to the Graf Park proposal who attended the meeting.

Residents had voiced concerns the plans would change the character of Graf Park. The early learning center addition would have been constructed on the current park property and connected to nearby Monroe Middle School. The residents started a website, savegrafpark.org, and posted opposition signs throughout the city in an attempt to derail the plans.

Voters in April 2017 voted down a referendum that would have paid for a new $16.6 million facility at the Jefferson site. Prior to April's vote, voters in 2013 rejected a $17.6 million plan for a new center to replace the current building. Needs at the center include a secured entry, sufficient classroom and office space, and wheelchair accessibility.

Debt certificates would help pay for the proposed early learning center. Debt certificates provide a way to borrow for improvements that allows for debt payments to come from the district's existing operational budget, not through a tax increase. The certificates would not require voter approval.

In addition to using existing dollars and debt certificates, board members also are considering a private fundraising campaign to potentially offset a portion of the building's cost.

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