AVONDALE — Frank W. Reilly Elementary in Avondale is getting its first major makeover since the 1990s.
The district awarded the elementary school at 3650 W. School St. $13.5 million in its latest budget. The money is going toward a number of capital improvements at the school, which serves mostly low-income Hispanic students. Plans for the cash include roof repairs, a new turf field, new classrooms and more, according to Reilly principal Kenneth Fitzner.
“It’s going to help parents from any demographic look at this school and say, ‘This is where I want my kids to go,'” Fitzner said.
Fitzner, who has helmed the school for four years, said this is Reilly’s first major makeover since the 1990s when the district built the school’s annex. In this year’s budget, Reilly is near the top of the district’s list in terms of schools awarded the most amount of money.
This round of improvements coincide with big changes at Reilly. Most notably, the school is ending its lease with the Catholic school down the block that has housed second, third and fourth graders for nearly a decade.
Fitzner said the school entered into the lease when enrollment was way up (around 1,200), but now that enrollment has declined (it’s now about 770), the school no longer needs the extra building.
“That space became underutilized to the point where we’re able to move those students to the main building,” he said.
Some of the money provided by the district will go toward fixing up rooms in the main building that haven’t been in use for years to accommodate for the change.
“There are at least five areas being completely redone — gutted and made into classrooms that are functional for students,” Fitzner said.
The budget allocation allowed Reilly to repaint its entire first floor — “It looks like a new school on that first floor,” Fitzner said — and make much-needed repairs to its deteriorating roof. Fitzner said the roof had gotten so bad bricks were falling from it. One time a brick fell in the parking lot, he said.
Also thanks to the budget allocation, Reilly is getting a repaved parking lot, a new turf field and a new pre-K classroom.
On the turf field, Fitzner said, “Right now it’s asphalt. … It’s not conducive to kids playing. Turfing that field is not only good for the school, but [we’ll be] able to let the community use it. There’s not a lot of green space in this area of Avondale so it’s a great thing for the community.”
The district is throwing a lot of money behind pre-K expansion citywide. In this year’s budget, about $1 in every $5 spent will go toward a universal pre-K expansion.
Fitzner said while teachers, parents and administrators thrilled to have received a sizable amount of money from the district to make much-needed improvements, they’re also anxious about the closure of the extra building.
“People get emotionally attached to a space,” Fitzner said. “The Local School Council has been instrumental in working with parents to say this is eventually going to be better for the school. We’re all going to be under one roof.”
Ultimately, though, Fitzner said all of the improvements will set Reilly students up for success.
“Environment goes hand-in-hand with students’ achievement,” he said. “You’re going to see students more proud of where they’re going, which usually translates into higher achievement for kids.”
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