A flurry of activity is going on behind the scenes as the Monticello school district attempts to put its $33 million building renovation out to bid by next spring. That includes the need for zoning permits, asbestos testing, contacting the Illinois Historical Preservation Agency, and the testing of soil where new construction will occur.

School board members are also honing in the design for a high school entry element that will be included in the effort, settling on a couple of options presented Nov. 14 that strike a balance between subdued and noticeable.

Architects from BLDD presented their latest entry options, noting requests by the board to avoid standalone monuments and to tie things more closely into the current entryway. Architects came up with a favored option of two piers joined together by an overhang that announces the facility as "Monticello High School."

The brick or metal mesh piers would stair step to fit into the varied rooflines of the current building, which includes lower roof lines to the north and higher ones on the south side commons and Miller Gym.

"So you see an element that, in a sense does relate to the building because it gets larger in that direction, so you get this sort of stepping idea, so architecturally you go from a lower element to a middle sized element to a larger element, so it sort of rises up and relates very strongly to your existing architecture, which I think was a positive move," said architect Carson Durham.

"So it incorporates an element that is monumental and also creates this idea of a portico or entrance," he added. "You walk under something and you walk beside something very large that is marking the entrance. We tried to find a balance there."

Board members appreciated the work, which has gone back and forth between themselves and the architects for several months.

"I like the simplicity," said board member Kate Himes. "They’re very simple, they fit the current features that we already have. They’re nothing gaudy and they fit the need to have an entrance."

Another benefit is the elimination of a standalone monument-style structure, which improves visibility of the high school lawn from the school office, boosting security efforts.

About $120,000 has been budgeted for the entry.

Board members are expected to make a final decision on the entry in December.


Zoning requests

The district will need zoning approval from the City of Monticello for both the building project and the portable classrooms proposed for the west side of the high school lawn. Those include conditional use permits to allow a school in a residentially-zoned area – something that had been allowed as a non-conforming use in the past – and another SUP for the modular classrooms.

Variances are also needed for the modular classrooms to encroach on property line setbacks, and for a mechanical room to be placed within an east side setback.

The city planning and zoning board was scheduled to consider those requests on Monday. Their recommendations would also require city council approval.

Soil surrounding the school will need to be addressed where new construction is planned due to its highly organic nature.

"The problem with organic soil is that, over time the organics decompose and the soil settles. You don’t want your buildings on that," said architect Bruce Maxey, who was also present at the Nov. 14 board meeting.

Options include stabilizing the soil with lime or cement. Soil could also be replaced, but Maxey said that is a difficult and expensive option.

The building project includes new gym and classroom additions to Washington Elementary and a new two-story science wing at the high school.

Estimates are also being compiled on any asbestos abatement that will be needed as part of the effort.

Superintendent Vic Zimmerman hopes all of the work will make for a busy and productive summer in 2019, and said getting the portables on site will be the first step.

"The goal would be to get the portables on site in late May or right at the beginning of June so we can move the high school classrooms out of Washington into the portables and move old Washington classrooms into where the high school classrooms are and then we can remove the asbestos and tear down Old Washington," he said.

"So there is still kind of a domino effect, but the sooner we have the portables the sooner we can make those moves," added Zimmerman.

The use of four modular classrooms could trim at least several months off of the construction timetable.

As more detail is added to the project manual being compiled by BLDD Architects, better estimates on overall cost will be presented to the school board, possibly at a special session in December.

The district has also made the required contact with the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency due to the age and heritage of the structures, including an 1894 build date for Washington Elementary and 1923 for the original part of the high school.

Zimmerman said response had been slow, but that he had heard back from the state agency more than six weeks after he made initial contact.

"Now they have 30 days to review my letter and get back to me. So we’re going to continue to be proactive and contact them," he said.