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051018-blm-loc-1colenehoose

A rendering shows the proposed 5,200-square-foot addition on the east wing of Colene Hoose Elementary School in Normal, which would house four classrooms and a common space for students with special needs.

NORMAL — A proposed building addition at Colene Hoose Elementary School in Normal could increase student safety and create a better learning environment for students with special needs.

The McLean County Unit 5 school board toured the 53-year-old elementary school at 600 Grandview Drive, Normal, on Wednesday prior to the board meeting.

Colene Hoose is a hub for the district’s Behavioral Emotional Support Team (BEST) program, which provides intensive behavioral and emotional support to students.

Currently, students in the BEST program attend class in smaller-than-average classrooms with 10 students per class. The district expects to have 30 BEST students in the fall.

“If there is ever an emotional or physical outburst in which we have to respond, we have pretty tight quarters and it creates some safety concerns from time to time,” said Hoose Principal Adam Zbrozek.

Zbrozek called the proposal “a game-changer” for students.

The proposed 5,200-square-foot addition off the east wing of the building would include four, 900-square-foot classrooms and a common space. The current BEST program space will be reconfigured to provide a larger calming room, conference space and a sensory room, which offers interactive equipment to help children focus.

“Having those calming spaces within the structure of the BEST hallway would give us an immediate response that would be safer and would protect their dignity in the recovery time,” said Zbrozek.

Including a large common space in which BEST students can interact with their peers helps build social skills needed to transition to the general education population and on to junior high, said officials.

The addition would also include a new bus lane to assist BEST students.

The project is estimated to cost $1.2 million — $725,000 of which would be collected from the school land dedication fees paid by developers when their final plots are recorded with the county. The remaining cost would come from the district’s working cash fund.

“(Working cash) is something we typically don’t like to take money out of, except for emergency situations and for nonoperational spending like capital needs and long-term investments,” said Unit 5 Business Manager Marty Hickman. “Without it, there would definitely be a negative impact on those students.”

The project will be brought to the board for a vote at the first meeting in July.

If approved, renovations to the current BEST classrooms would begin in the summer and the addition would be completed by Thanksgiving.

“We’re going to be changing generations with this program. Everybody has been talking about mental health and tonight we have a vision and we’re moving forward,” said Joe Adelman, Unit 5 director of operations.

The board also approved a labor contract covering 933 teachers and certified staff for 2018-20. Base teacher salaries were raised from $34,614 to $37,000 for 2018-19 and to $37,600 in 2019-20.

After a back and forth discussion about the importance of appropriately honoring indigenous people that included input from Unit 5 students, the board approved marking the last Monday in September as Indigenous Peoples Day in the district.

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Contact Julia Evelsizer at (309) 820-3254. Follow her on Twitter: @pg_evelsizer

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