Major makeover: Joliet Central getting $28M renovation, student center
BY TINA AKOURIS email@example.com October 11, 2013 10:28PM
Updated: November 14, 2013 6:14AM
Christine Peterson has worked at Joliet Central High School for 23 years. From her perch at the school’s main entrance, Peterson, a security guard, watches students walk the halls from 7 a.m. until the final bell rings at 3:15 p.m.
Peterson knows how congested those halls can get.
“It’s very heavy, and we have a lot of congestion over by ‘D’ door, which is by our deans’ hallway,” Peterson said. “When you have that (pedestrian) congestion, people are pushing each other and they can get excited.
“With that gone, we’ll get (foot traffic) going in a different direction. And it will make things safer.”
Joliet Central’s security staff and students are going to get that wish in the next couple of years. Joliet Township High School District 204 is embarking on a massive construction project at its Central campus that will include a new cafeteria, student center and galleria with an overhead walkway to ease foot traffic.
Phase One of the $28 million construction project is underway. The project’s completion date is January or February of 2016.
The project is being funded by a bond issue. The district hired Darien-based Wight and Co. as it architecture firm, and Gilbane is managing the construction.
Principal John Randich said keeping the new addition’s facade as close to the architecture of the original building is paramount. The original Central campus building was constructed in 1901 and is on the National Register of Historic Places.
This is the first major construction project at Central campus since the fieldhouse was built in 2008.
Part of the construction entails tearing down the Little Theater — formerly a church — where the school’s childcare center is located in the building’s basement.
The new childcare center will be across the street in the building that formerly housed the district’s transportation center. This part of the construction project should be finished by December.
Demolition of the Little Theater is scheduled to begin in February. Once the building is torn down, work will begin on a new student center. Randich said Herkimer Street may be closed during demolition.
The student center is going to be the project’s centerpiece. The area will house a galleria, cafeteria, kitchen, multipurpose rooms, a student bookstore, technology help center and a new security entrance.
“We will have some flexibility because we can use the galleria (for community events, too),” Randich said. “What we are losing in the Little Theater is regained in the second-floor presentation room. The theater seats 210, so we use it for small events.”
The galleria will connect the student center with the east side of the school, and Herkimer Street will be closed to southbound traffic once the galleria is finished.
The new security entrance will be on the ground level, unlike the current one that requires visitors to walk up a flight of stairs.
“We’ll also have an increase in visitor parking, because right now we are kind of limited,” Randich said.
The cafeteria will move to the first floor from its spot on the fourth floor, an improvement in that it will be safer for kitchen workers and more convenient for deliveries.
The other improvement is in seating. Central has an enrollment of about 3,000 students, and seating capacity in the fourth-floor space is 350. The new space can easily hold at least 400 students.
That’s going to be good news for students such as freshman Daeja Creal, who has to ask friends to save her a seat so she can eat lunch on time.
“The first day of school I was so scared walking into that cafeteria and there was nowhere to sit,” Creal said. “Everyone was so packed in and I couldn’t find a seat. Now I have senior friends that save me a seat, but for other students who may have a hard time, it is really crowded in there.
“The worst part is getting out. I have to get from the fourth floor down to the second building and I’m running (to class). I hope the new building won’t have as much clutter.”
Freshman Jonathan Ortiz also has issues with the old cafeteria.
“The biggest problem, and the worst part of my day, is trying to find a seat during lunch,” Ortiz said.
District officials are hoping the galleria and cafeteria additions can be the focal point of a downtown area that has been struggling in this depressed economic climate.
English teacher Emily Petronio, for one, is optimistic that the new building will bring some energy to the downtown area and Joliet’s east side community as a whole.
“The east side gets a bad rap in town,” Petronio said. “To have something new — along with (Joliet Junior College) being built here — shows that, as a city, we are not giving up on it, that it deserves just as much attention as the west side.”