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Smooth opening for first day at Prairie Trail

Prairie Trail School students VictoriSwiscz (left) 10 Waukegan Paige Johns10 Waukegan ShaquitLewis 10 Gurnee AmayTrink 9 Gurnee are first enter

Prairie Trail School students Victoria Swiscz (left), 10 of Waukegan, Paige Johnson, 10, Waukegan, Shaquita Lewis, 10, Gurnee and Amaya Trink, 9, of Gurnee are the first to enter their new school on the first day of classes in Wadsworth. | Thomas Delany Jr.~Sun-Times Media

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School renovations the norm

Brand-new school buildings are not the norm among school districts in Lake County, with renovations occurring more often among the county’s 220 school buildings, said Roycealee Wood, regional superintendent of schools.

Over the past 10 or so years, new buildings have been built in Beach Park, Fox Lake, Lake Bluff, Fremont, Hainesville, Lindenhurst, Millburn, Grayslake and Gages Lake.

In Round Lake, there are two newer schools, Park Elementary on Townline Road with Community Consolidated School District 46 and Magee Middle School for Round Lake Unit School District 116, which was torn down and rebuilt on the same site. Special Education got new buildings in Gages Lake and Highland Park.

“There hasn’t been a lot of new buildings,” said Wood, mainly because it’s not easy. “You have to have a referendum and it’s a lot of work.”

“Most elementary schools are doing renovations,” she added, citing the Waukegan school district’s large and ect that will cost $37.7 million and add 116 classroomns to 12 elementary schools. “Rehabs are more prevalent now,” she said. Her office issues permits for new buildings and they also monitor construction progress.

Sometimes a school district guts an entire structure, which Zion-Benton Township High School District did to build a new Tech High School that uses technology and small school learning environment.

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Updated: March 9, 2013 2:37AM

WADSWORTH — Contractors were doing some final adjustments at the brand new Prairie Trail elementary school when it opened for the first day of class Monday, but within the first hour it had established an essential component of any grade school: Lost and found.

With an occasional late student dropping into the new offices around 8:30 a.m., staff had already collected a hat, pair of gloves from the buses and one single black checker from a checker board game found at the school entrance. Now it’s a real school; they just have to find a place to put the items.

“We think we’re going to put it in the cafeteria so they can look at it when they go to lunch,” said Carrie Kocen, office secretary, with the hopes students will recognize their belongings and claim them.

Four young girls got to be the first students to walk through the doors on the school’s “official first day” after getting off the bus, but they did not plan it that way. It just happened. They were Amaya Trink, 9, of Gurnee; Paige Johnson, 10, of Waukegan; Shaquita Lewis, 10, of Gurnee; and Victoria Swiscz, 10, of Waukegan.

“It’s really exciting,” said Trink, who looked for other people in her class to find her way to her pod. Johnson looked for her color, because each pod has a color. The newest thing she was getting used to was what she will spend a lot of time at. “It’s different,” she said of her new surroundings. “In the classroom, we have new desks, they don’t open.”

Principal Kevin Simmons explained students have triangle-shaped desks and instead of keeping things inside a desk and in a locker in the hallway, they have a cubby hole in the classroom.

“I like all the new stuff,” said Trink. Lewis said she likes the pods where eight classes all share a common area with bean bag chairs and sectional couches, and large interactive screens for teaching. Doorless bathrooms with sinks just outside the entryway and a resource room complete the pod.

“I like the pod so we don’t have to roam the hallways,” said Lewis. The building design means one pod can go to the gymnasium or cafeteria and not go past another classroom, distracting them. She likes the common area, too.

“We can sit down and get quiet and do our work,” she said. Swiscz said her teacher guided her to her new classroom. “I like that this has more space,” she said, “and I like the new desk.”

Simmons was busy with some of the final “tweaks,” such as getting the door buzzer working to let people into the office from outside, which they did by hand that morning. Adjustments also had to be made for the temperature settings after one teacher reported things were very warm in her area.

“They were really excited about coming back to school,” said Simmons. “I’m really pleased with how this is working out.” He learned that only one family was missed by the bus company that morning and that was music to his ears.

Gurnee Grade School District 56 voters approved the $28.5 million construction and renovation project in November 2010. The 90,000-square-foot school will house 538 students in grades three through five. The school won the Energy Star Certification this year for all the building’s energy-saving features. It uses berms for insulation; 12 skylights and courtyards to provide natural light; and also has an electric car charging station in front of the school. Water from the roof goes into a rain garden where students will plant natives and use as a natural science laboratory.

Students at Prairie Trail came from the old O’Plaine School, now called River Trail School. Students from Gurnee Elementary now go to River Trail School. Their old flood-prone building along the Des Plaines River will be demolished.

This is a technology driven school with cameras and televisions in the classrooms, and large interactive boards in the pod’s common areas, along with a technology room. The cafeteria has a state-of-the-art sound system and three large screens that drop from the ceiling. It shares a wall with the gymnasium, which also has drop-down screens, so the cafeteria can become a stage for performing arts or guest speakers.

“When all the students get iPads (soon), at that point, we will really be technology driven,” Simmons said. Of course, one thing hasn’t changed. Students are still expected to “Be Safe, Be Responsible, Be Respectful and Be Positive.”

The switch from the old O’Plaine School to Wadsworth has at least one secretary in the building loving her new commute. “It took me three minutes to get to work,” said Jeanne Gildea.

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