D86 tackles Transition Center crunch

Growing enrollment drives search for more space to serve students with disabilities

To address surging demand for Transition Center services, Hinsdale High School District 86 is poised to spend $3.8 million to lease and remodel an additional 11,500 square feet of space to accommodate students next school year and beyond.

At their Dec. 17 meeting, board members discussed an administration recommendation to rent two suites at 361 Frontage Road in Burr Ridge to ease overcrowding at the district’s Transition Center across from Hinsdale South High School in Darien. The center provides life and vocational skills instruction to young adults with disabilities between the ages of 18 and 22 from the Hinsdale Central and Hinsdale South communities.

Officials say about 20,000 square feet of space is needed to serve the population, which has grown from 24 students in 2013-14 to 97 this school year. The Transition Center has less than half that recommended space. The district rents two additional spaces for $14,400 a month.

Chief Financial Officer Josh Stephenson said the larger rental space could consolidate those two sites, and opportunity exists for gaining more room to eventually replace the center.

“It could potentially be a long-term solution to house the full program at this site,” he said.

Officials also examined adding on to the current facility or constructing a secondary building, but the estimated costs — including more than $12 million for a new building — and protracted time frame were not attractive.

“The addition would have to be along the east side of the property. It would be a very long, skinny addition. It would not be very useful space,” Stephenson said. “We’d be overlapping a large-scale construction project in the midst of the large-scale referendum construction projects.

“We don’t think it is the best solution at this time,” he said.

Board member and finance committee Chairman Eric Held said he supports the rental facility.

“It’s a good location, it’s within the district, it’s not very far away from the South campus,” he said of the site.

Renovation costs could be funded by a debt certificate which is paid with operational funds, officials reported. If the district went with the recommended 10-year option, the monthly rent would be $17,729, which would be funded by a federal grant.

Transition Center enrollment has been climbing for several years as its range of services and programs have expanded. Brad Verthein, assistant superintendent for student services, said that trend will continue.

“I think it’s safe to say that that (enrollment) plateau is not going to occur in the next four to five years,” he said.

Stephenson underscored the goal of ultimately bringing all programs under one roof.

“The ideal long-term solution would be to have one location for operational and instructional efficiency,” Stephenson said. “There’s flexibility here to potentially grow our square footage at this rental location and have the full program there long-term.”

The board is expected to revisit the issue at a future meeting.

Author Bio

Ken Knutson is associate editor of The Hinsdalean