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BY JIM MASTERS
LANSING, Ill. (April 26, 2021) – Monday’s groundbreaking for the new Lester Crawl Primary Center represents an approximately $14 million investment in the pre-kindergarten education of Memorial School District 158’s kids.
Located at 18300 Green Bay Road, just across the lawn from Thornton Fractional South High School, the Lester Crawl Primary Center will give three- and four-year-olds a head start as they enter primary grades — something especially critical to those who may come from more economically disadvantaged homes.
“It’s kind of a landmark initiative,” says District 158 Superintendent Dr. Nathan Schilling. “It’s hopefully going to be a model for other school districts in Illinois, as it aligns with Governor Pritzker’s big initiatives with early children education.”
Schilling said the fact that attendees at the groundbreaking included State Rep. Marcus Evans, D-33rd, State Sen. Elgie Sims, D-17th, and Congresswoman Robin Kelly, D-2nd, attests to the scale and significance of the project and its potential benefits.
“We have a student population that has some needs, there are some risk factors and there’s some challenges in the area of poverty,” he said. “We served over 300,000 meals during the pandemic through our food service program. We’re looking to provide every possible support that we can for our families, for our students, and help them be as successful as possible in our school system.”
Each of the legislators mentioned above spoke at Monday’s groundbreaking alongside Dr. Schilling, as did as other local leaders.
“We’ve gone through this pandemic and teachers, and students, and parents … it hasn’t been the easiest time for any of you,” said Rep. Kelly. “But also I see in the pandemic there could be a silver lining that we can reimagine education and how we teach our kids … You guys, District 158, you’re already role models in the things you’ve done.”
The first phase of the Lester Crawl project will entail all the requisite site work, such as water retention and utilities. Last week, the District 158 School Board approved a $1.3 million bid from Oltoff Inc. for the site work. JMA Architects of South Holland, Illinois was previously retained as the project architect.
The primary center will be built on the site of an older maintenance structure, which will be torn down and replaced by a new facility currently in construction at Green Bay and Illinois Street. Illinois Street will also be extended west to the current alley south of 183rd Street to better accommodate traffic flow.
Schilling said the current Lester Crawl building will remain in use through the end of this school year and all of next school year. New construction is hoped to be completed by the 2022-2023 school year, at which time school operations will move to the new wing and the old structure will be remodeled. The whole building is planned to be fully operational by the start of the 2023-2024 school year.
“We cannot understate or undersell the magnitude of the facilities work done in our school district to elevate the Lansing community,” Schilling said. “When you drive around our community you can see these beautiful, fully restored and functioning state-of-the-art facilities.”
He believes Lester Crawl and the other school upgrade projects demonstrate that Lansing is an excellent destination for families to buy a home and enroll their children in school. The project represents the fifth and final school construction project by District 158 over the past 15 years.
“Your goal to build a facility that will serve as a model for other schools in Illinois is a reflection on all of us in our community. Thank you for this vision,” said Lansing Mayor Patty Eidam on Monday.
Schilling also spoke at Monday’s groundbreaking ceremony, saying the completion of the new building would, “Bring full circle a school facilities initiative that has spanned three decades, three superintendents, and $86 million.”
Initially, the primary center will accommodate 120 students, and will essentially double in capacity as the facility is expanded over the next two years. Once completed, it will be one of the largest early childhood education centers in the state of Illinois, according to Schilling.
Lester Crawl Primary Center is located at 18300 Greenbay Ave, Lansing, IL
Josh Bootsma contributed to this story.
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