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Kolodziej: A special transition to adulthood

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014 2:58 p.m. CDT
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(Photo provided)
Jim Kolodziej

For over 15 years, District 99 has proudly offered continued educational services to hundreds of students through our Transition 99 Program.

Transition 99 serves older students between the ages 18 and 22 who have cognitive and other health impairments. Instructors focus on teaching vital life and work skills to equip these young people with the foundation they need to grow—and to become productive adults in our community. 

Transition 99 students are special and require a special space in which to learn. In fact, best practices in special education include providing a learning space in the community for transition-age students.

On Jan. 21, District 99 opened the doors to its newly rehabbed, dedicated space for this program at 4232 Venard Road in Downers Grove. The 10,000-square-foot facility is equipped with a vocational work room (to house the program’s shredding business!), laundry facilities, four classrooms, a living area, a conference room and office, a kitchen and bathrooms, including a shower. It includes everything a student needs to practice independent living.

Before we purchased the Venard property, we contacted architects to see if the estimated development costs were economically feasible. After the financial analysis, we found that without a doubt, the property was ideal.

The district would be able to support the facility cost and construction out of existing funds – and without raising taxes. The District 99 Board of Education recognized the opportunity and unanimously approved moving forward with the purchase for the new, permanent site. 

When we purchased the property less than a year ago, it was an empty shell. Staff members planned and worked closely with our parents, architects, construction professionals, the Village of Downers Grove and the Downers Grove Fire Department in a true community effort to transform the space.

All of the operational, technology, water, sewer and safety systems were designed from scratch and installed. Walls were put up and painted; we put down tile and carpet. We’ve experienced a flurry of construction activity since last November, and the project came in on budget and on time.

The facility has been transformed by our redesign and construction, but more importantly, we believe the space will transform our students into the contributing members of society they are destined to become.  

Jim Kolodziej is the director of facilities at District 99, which includes North High School and South High School in Downers Grove.

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