NORMAL — Responding to a rise in Central Illinois children with cognitive and learning disorders, The Baby Fold wants to expand Hammitt School by spending nearly $3 million to reconfigure space at 612 Oglesby Ave.
Hammitt School serves special education children with intensive needs that cannot be handled in traditional special education programs in public schools, said Aimee Beam, Baby Fold vice president of development and public relations.
"There has been a real increase," including students on the autism spectrum, Beam said Friday.
"We're bursting at the seams," she said. "But we don't want these kids to be on waiting lists."
The Baby Fold wants to increase its number of Hammitt School classrooms from 21 to 26 and its number of students from 150 to between 180 and 190, she said. Students come to Hammitt School from a service area with a 60-mile radius.
"We will add to staff but we're not sure of the number yet," she said.
The Baby Fold plans to accomplish the school expansion by reconfiguring and remodeling office space into classrooms at its 612 Oglesby Ave. building, Beam said.
Offices there will be relocated to 318 Susan Drive and to a portion of 614 Oglesby where The Baby Fold has its Residential Treatment Program. That program was reduced in size in 2015.
Hammitt Elementary School will remain at 108 E. Willow St., Normal, Beam said.
The Oglesby building will be for Hammitt Junior-Senior High School students. Hammitt Junior-Senior High now is at 1500 Fort Jesse Road, Normal, and plans are to move from that leased location to the expanded space on Oglesby, she said.
Reconfiguring the Oglesby building into classroom space will be relatively easy because the building, many years ago, was the Illinois Soldiers' and Sailors' Children's School, Beam said.
Renovation will cost nearly $3 million. "We will use donor dollars to complete this project," Beam said.
The Normal City Council must approve an amended development plan for the property to accommodate the building's conversion to a school. The council is expected to take up the matter Monday night, and the town's staff has recommended approval.
"We hope to begin remodeling in June and occupy the new space by August 2018 for the start of the 2018-2019 school year," she said.
Each Hammitt School classroom has at least two teachers and a typical class size is eight students, Beam said. "Each student gets individualized, focused attention," she said.
"We understand the problem," Beam said, referred to the increased need. "We're working hard to partner with the school districts so these children can be their best selves. When that happens, it benefits their families and communities."
The Baby Fold is a Normal-based human services agency with several programs for vulnerable children and families.