NORMAL — Nearly 100 years after the Illinois Soldiers' and Sailors' Children's School (ISSCS) opened a building at 612 Oglesby Ave. for classroom instruction, and nearly 40 years after ISSCS closed, the building is being returned to its original function.
The Baby Fold, the Normal-based human services agency, is renovating the 1921 building that it had been using for office space to house Baby Fold's expanding Hammitt Junior-Senior High School.
"To me, it's very meaningful," said Baby Fold CEO Dianne Schultz, whose career began as an ISSCS special education teacher in the building in 1977, two years before ISSCS closed. "This building was designed for instruction."
"These hallways were meant for children and that's going to happen again," Baby Fold Vice President of Development and Public Relations Aimee Beam said following a hard-hat tour of the building Tuesday as renovation work continued. "The community will feel the impact because of the increased number of children that we'll be able to help."
When the $3 million renovation of the 27,000-square-foot building in northeast Normal is complete, Hammitt School will be able to increase its number of classrooms from 21 to 26 and its number of students from 150 to between 180 and 190, Beam said.
Hammitt Elementary School will remain at 108 E. Willow St., Normal, but Hammitt Junior-Senior High will move from leased space at 1500 Fort Jesse Road to 612 Oglesby.
Offices for Baby Fold's foster care, adoption therapy and Healthy Start programs — which had been at 612 Oglesby — have been moved to 318 Susan Drive, Normal, and to the former residential treatment center (RTC) behind the Oglesby building. The RTC closed June 30 because of lack of state funding.
Hammitt School provides instruction for students with autism or severe emotional disabilities whose intensive needs can't be met in special education programs in public schools, Schultz said.
Forty school districts within a 60-mile radius of Bloomington-Normal refer students to Hammitt. Students' tuition at Hammitt is covered by those school districts, with some reimbursement by the state.
"We refer students with behavioral or emotional disabilities to Hammitt School after we try everything else," said James Lines, special education director for the Deer Creek-Mackinaw school district.
"We've been using Hammitt School for a long time," Lines said. "We've had good luck with it. They tailor their programs to meet the individual needs of the students."
Sometimes, students are able to return to the public schools.
Schultz said eight students are on a waiting list for Hammitt Junior-Senior High. Lines said there is an increased need for services for students with behavioral or emotional disabilities.
"It's a great idea," Lines said of the Hammitt School expansion.
Angie Isaacs of Farmer City, whose son, William, 17, is at student at Hammitt Junior-Senior High, also favors the expansion because "they can help more kids."
"I can't say enough about this school and the wonderful things they do to get these kids on the right track," Isaacs said.
William, who has attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, struggled and was being disrespectful at school, but the individual attention that he has received at Hammitt "saved his life," his mother said.
"He's on the honor roll," Isaacs said.
The $3 million is coming from donor gifts, Beam said.
Construction work includes replacing the building's heating/ventilation/air conditioning, roof and fire sprinkler systems; expanding the driveway to accommodate unloading and loading of students from school buses; adding parking spaces; and reconfiguring rooms back into classrooms, which will include "calming areas" for students experiencing anxiety and enhanced instructional areas for daily living skills, vocational and career exploration and physical education, said Schultz and Gregg Bauer, field superintendent with McCoy Construction of Pontiac, the general contractor for the project.
Construction should be done in May, with the building ready for students in August, Schultz said.