Pekin Community High School students and faculty now have a 21st Century library with all of the technological bells and whistles.

The library, now known as the Learning Commons, was renovated from its 1963 original design over the summer. Teachers got their first glimpse of the commons Wednesday during a teacher’s institute. The 100,000-square-foot library renovation costs $1.2 million, which included not only the commons but also restrooms outside each entrance to the facility.

District 303 Superintendent Danielle Owens said the Learning Commons will meet needs for many years to come.

“I don’t think the need for collaboration space is going to go away,” said Owens. “I think the use of technology is only going to continue to increase.”

Over the years, fresh paint and new carpet spruced up the antiquated library. The old carpet covered asbestos tiles, one of the offices there was a large storage room, group meeting areas were inadequate and technology access was limited to computer labs. 

Starting next year each student will have a laptop, known as Chromebook, and carry it with them to all of their classes.

“We got away from computer labs because obviously we’re going to be one-to-one starting next fall,” said Owens. “So every student will have a device. So there’s not a need for standalone computer labs anymore. This year the teachers will all have a Chromebook, and then there will be certain classrooms that will have Chromebooks for use.”

The faculty will be training on the laptops this year. Eleven teachers piloted Chromebooks in their classrooms last year. Another 20 teachers will pilot the devices this year in their classrooms. Each have carts with 32 devices in their rooms for students to use. The Chromebooks cost around $300 each; the investments for all students and faculty will be $60,000.

The district has been buying the Chromebooks over time so it does not have to invest all at once. It currently has 1,000 of the devices, 500 of which were purchased over the summer. The district will buy the remainder of the devices it needs in summer 2018. Title I federal funds have paid for the district’s devices. The district plans to use Title I funds for the purchase of the remainder of the computers, said Owens, but the Title I funds have not been released yet. The funds are supposed to be released this week. The federal grants flow through the state.

“You know how that goes,” said Owens. “It’s amazingly ridiculous.”

The new facility has USB ports and charge stations built into tables in common areas and in group rooms. One of the rooms is equipped with large television monitors so that, with the push of a button, a student’s work can be displayed for all in the room to see.

Both of the small group rooms have a wall covered with white board for writing. One of the small rooms has a green screen that covers an entire wall for special effects in presentations. A green screen is what weather programs project the weather map on, said Owens. One of the large rooms has the technology for distance learning. That enables the district to partner with other schools and institutions to bring classes to the high school that it normally does not have.

Dividing walls between the medium and large meeting rooms can be collapsed to make a large space for double the number of students for a class. There are also smaller spaces for one-on-one meetings. The medium meeting rooms seat 15. When the wall is removed, a class of 30 can meet there. The large rooms seat 27. So when the wall is removed it will seat close to 60 students. The small group rooms have seating for approximately 10 students.

In a large walkway area at the front of the library, formerly where the checkout desk was, is a seating area for students to gather and work. They will be allowed to bring their breakfast there in the morning so they can work together. In the back of the room is another gathering area near the windows. In the center of the library, there will be a gathering area with tables with circular seating around them.

The library opens up to the butterfly garden, which was also renovated. New seating and umbrellas will be installed in the coming week. Classes can be held there as well. There will be seating for 30 students.

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