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Safety concerns spark idea of turning Central Junior High into a middle school

The decision to transform Central Junior High School in Evergreen Park into a middle school began with some security concerns.
“It’s kind of an interesting story,” School District 124 Supt. Robert Machak said.
Machak and Evergreen Park police conducted security audits at each of the district’s five schools shortly after he arrived in the district last year.
“They walked through every building with me,” Machak said.
During a tour of Central Junior High, Machak noticed that anyone who entered the doors of the adjacent administrative office could get into the school without being noticed, he said.
He talked to the school board about securing the entrance, which led to a proposal to swap the administrative offices and junior high library.
The plan carried a $600,000 price tag, which led school board members to consider other proposals, including transforming the junior high into a middle school.
The idea has been floated before, but the district never followed through on bringing sixth graders to the junior high, 9400 S. Sawyer Ave., Machak said.
“The plan sort of evolved,” he said. “Maybe now was the time to revisit bringing the sixth grade over.”
The board’s facilities committee and met several times with the district’s architect to discuss specifics.
Accommodating sixth graders means adding 10 to 12 classrooms to the school, which necessitated moving the administrative offices out of the junior high, Machak said.
The district considered renting office space, but couldn’t find anything that met its needs. It also considered purchasing and renovating a residential property.
“We looked at everything under the sun,” Machak said.
Ultimately, the district decided to buy Brady-Gill Funeral Home, 2929 W 87th St.
The district will use $1 million in reserves and float a $7.5 million bond to pay for the funeral home and fund the renovation of the junior high, Machak said.
District officials decided against using more of its reserves in case funds were needed for an emergency, said Machak, who added that the bonds will not lead to a property tax increase for district residents
The first group of sixth graders will attend Central in the 2015-16 school year.
The school will be renovated after the district offices are relocated next year, Machak said.
Machak, a middle school principal for 13 years, said the concept will bring many advantages to the district.
He said a common complaint about the junior high model is that the timeline for students is too fast. They are either arriving in 7th grade or getting ready to graduate the following year. The middle school, on the other hand, allows students to grow and mature over a three-year period.
Additionally, it gives eighth graders the chance to serve as mentors to the sixth grade class, thereby developing leadership skills.
“I also think there is a strong academic benefit,” Machak said.
Also, removing sixth grade from the elementary schools will free up much needed space in those buildings, he said.

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