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Decatur superintendent to ask for inspections for every school after structural concerns at Dennis Lab School

Warning tape cordons off Dennis Lab School's Kaleidoscope Campus on June 27, 2023.

DECATUR — After structural problems at Dennis Lab School caught Decatur Public Schools administrators by surprise, Superintendent Rochelle Clark wants structural engineers to check every school.

Clark asked the DPS Board of Education to consider a master plan instead of immediately repairing the two Dennis buildings.

“Both buildings are 100-plus years old and fixing just the structural components doesn’t mean there won’t be issues in the future. In terms of our other buildings, they need to be part of the analysis, so we don’t miss anything moving forward,” Clark said.

The district closed Dennis Lab School in late May, after the last day of school, when a structural engineer found major concerns. Another engineering firm confirmed that a staircase was pulling away from a wall in one school building and the exterior was deteriorating at another.

When Kevin Collins-Brown asked why administrators hadn’t caught the structural issues when a parent brought them up at a board meeting a year ago, Clark said she does try to follow up on everything and did not remember the comment.

Clark plans to hear board feedback on the master plan idea in two weeks.

Teachers wait to move belongings from Dennis

All Dennis staff and students will move to Garfield Learning Academy for at least the next year, displacing the Garfield alternative education students to a self-contained wing of Stephen Decatur Middle School.

Clark has asked the Illinois State Board of Education whether Dennis students can start the fall later than their peers, while the district constructs new mobile classrooms on the Garfield campus. She told the board she has not heard back yet.

Meanwhile, the district has completely barred staff access to Dennis to avoid violating a workplace safety complaint from the Illinois Department of Labor.

Amy Dobrinick is the mother of a Dennis teacher. She asked the school board to allow staff back in to move their belongings.

“The OSHA complaint comes a day late and a dollar short. The environmental problems that exist in that building did not happen overnight. Teachers and support staff have been working at that building for years now and have already been exposed,” Dobrinick said.

The complaint alleges mold and asbestos problems.

Clark said she expects to get state permission to continue moving belongings and furniture soon. 

Emily Hays is a reporter for Illinois Public Media. Follow her on Twitter @amihatt.

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Emily Hays

Emily Hays started at WILL in October 2021 after three-plus years in local newsrooms in Virginia and Connecticut. She has won state awards for her housing coverage at Charlottesville Tomorrow and her education reporting at the New Haven Independent. Emily graduated from Yale University where she majored in History and South Asian Studies.

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