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$30 million face lift planned for northside high school

Submitted on Fri, 03/02/2007 – 14:01.
Story by Anna Marevska

Stephen T. Mather High School will undergo $30 million in renovations over the next several months. The Northside school is one of three in the city’s massive system that will get money through the district’s Modern Schools Across Chicago program.

The school, located at 5835 N. Lincoln Ave. in the heart of the city’s 40th Ward, long ago outgrew its space. It currently enrolls about 1,800 students in a facility built to accommodate no more than 1,500, school officials said.

To accommodate so many students, the school day runs 11 periods of classes. And although the school district requires classes contain at least 25 students, the average class size at Mather is 30.

Mather needs not only a substantial building expansion, but also “a new roof, new gates, new lockers, new floor tiles, central air, and asbestos removal,” said Ray Palumbo, the school’s head engineer.

“We have not had a major renovation for the 20 years I have worked here,” said Assistant Principal Renee Aloma. “We don’t have air-conditioned classrooms, and we have an extensive summer program. It is very difficult for students and faculty during the hot and humid summer days.”

Architects from DeStefano & Partner, a Chicago-based firm assigned to design and construct the project, visited Mather in November. Joseph Clair, managing engineer overseeing the renovations, said the “final project is still in its design phase.”

Clair said once the renovations are completed next year, Mather will be a “green building” rated through the LEED program – a system used to rate how “green” a building is according to air, water and energy efficiency. Workers will be renovating the electrical, heating and cooling systems.

Junior Jon Rivera, who just transferred to Mather from Evergreen Park High School, said he did not expect the facility to be in such bad shape when he transferred from another school.

“Everything is so run down here,” said Rivera, 17. “The floors are peeling, the lockers are old and broken, there is not enough room for people. It is pretty bad.”

Other students agree. Sophomore Angelina Sekulovski, 16, wants to see the lunchroom and the library fixed.

“The school is in a really bad shape,” she said. “At the beginning of the school year, when it’s still hot outside, some of the classrooms get so warm, it is impossible to study. I really hope this project comes through.”

Some of the Mather renovations will take place in this summer, but the bulk of the work will be done in summer 2008, said Michael Vaughn, spokesman for the Modern Schools Across Chicago Program.

Last year, Mayor Richard Daly proposed a the $1 billion plan, which will add thousand of more seats for children in the city’s most crowded neighborhoods. The six-year project includes nine new high schools, 15 new elementary schools and the renovation of three high schools.

“Mather High School will definitely receive a major renovation as part of the mayor’s program,” said Vaughn, who said the money will primarily come from tax increment funds.

It’s been about 15 years since Mather underwent renovation of this kind. The Chicago Public Schools funded the project, which included building a computer lab and two classrooms.

“This is the closest we have ever been to a major renovation for a long, long time,” said Aloma, the school’s assistant principal.

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