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Construction of $44M McHenry School District 156 expansion to begin this summer

Commission gives positive recommendation for renovations at both high school campuses

McHenry High School District 156’s improvement and expansion plan has cleared another hurdle.

The McHenry Planning and Zoning Commission gave a positive recommendation for the plan this week, although some commissioners brought up concerns with traffic around the high schools.

District 156 plans to complete
$44 million in renovations at both campuses and construct a 64,000-square-foot addition at McHenry High School – West Campus.

The ultimate plan is to turn McHenry East into a campus for freshmen only, and have all sophomores, juniors and seniors attend the newly expanded McHenry West. The changes likely will take place in fall 2021, district officials said.

The district will build a science, technology, engineering and math lab in the addition. The addition also will host a variety of other labs, including those for chemistry, graphics, construction, biology, research, robotics, manufacturing and advanced environmental courses with a greenhouse, according to district documents.

District 156 plans to begin construction on both the East and West campuses this summer. On the West Campus, summer work will include the construction of 10 tennis courts, an expansion of the parking lot to accommodate an additional 224 vehicles, completion of tile work on the indoor pool and its deck and foundation work on the site of the addition.

Summer work on the East Campus will include the installation of a new heating, ventilation and air conditioning system for classroom and office space; new interior and exterior lighting throughout the building; new roofing that includes the new HVAC units; flooring and ceiling projects; and a building automation system, according to district documents.

Work on the expansion will continue through the 2019-20 year, according to district documents. District officials originally wanted to open the new spaces in fall 2020, but that date has been pushed back, according to district documents.

“The project must not be rushed, but rather completed to the highest standards to ensure its viability for many generations to come,” Superintendent Ryan McTague said in a statement. “The extension will now open in January of 2021. Some courses will begin utilizing the classroom and laboratory spaces for the remainder of the semester while existing sections of West Campus are remodeled or reconfigured in preparation for our campus shift.”

The district plans to implement its freshman campus plan in fall 2021, McTague said.

McHenry West has been operating at its location since 1969. District 156 most recently had a total enrollment of 2,221, with 1,427 students at McHenry West and 794 students at McHenry East, according to the Illinois State Board of Education.

McHenry West will be able to accommodate 2,000 students after the expansion, according to city documents.

The district projects between 530 and 575 students will attend the East Campus, with about 1,700 to 1,800 at McHenry West, according to district documents.

The City Council still must approve aspects of the plan.

Several Planning and Zoning Commission members expressed concerns about the changes to traffic the project will cause around the two high schools.

Commissioners said they are concerned about more cars in the morning and afternoons near the West Campus as older students drive themselves to class. They also expressed concerns about the potential for traffic snags near the East Campus because of an increase in cars dropping off and picking up students.

Several commissioners said they would like to see a traffic signal on Crystal Lake Road by the high school’s entrance. Others pointed out that there may be less traffic than expected because fewer upperclassmen are likely to be dropped off.

The proposal calls for the district to work with the McHenry Police Department to come up with a solution for potential traffic problems in the area.

The district will hold a public informational meeting at 6 p.m. May 1 in the McHenry West auditorium, 4724 W. Crystal Lake Road.

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