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RACINE — Racine Unified is planning to reopen its currently shuttered 104-year-old Stephen Bull building next school year, as an early learning center for 3K and 4K students.

Stephen Bull, 815 DeKoven Ave., was closed at the end of the 2017-18 school year when kindergarten through fifth-grade fine arts curriculum was moved from that building to what is now Gilmore Fine Arts. At Gilmore, the fine arts curriculum was expanded to include the middle school grades.

In the 2019-20 school year, the district plans to consolidate early learning programs currently located at Red Apple Elementary School, 914 St. Patrick St., and the Racine Early Education Center, 2015 Franklin St., at Stephen Bull.

“The Bull building will allow them to have amenities they don’t currently have, such as a gymnasium,” said district Superintendent Eric Gallien. “It would also allow us to address some very inefficient and outdated buildings.”

Administrators say the move will help the district improve support for the early learning programs by housing them in the same building and early learning students will have access to a cafeteria at Stephen Bull, which they do not have at the early learning center building.

Unified expects to educate about 250 students at Stephen Bull next year.

“We have enough classrooms to maintain what we have but there is room to grow in the building,” said Amy Shepherd, the district’s director of early learning.

Aging, inefficient facilities

Administrators say that the facilities currently housing the early learning programs are in desperate need of repair or demolition. The original portion of Red Apple, where the early learning programs are located, was built in 1872, while the early education center was constructed in 1949.

The Racine Unified School Board voted unanimously in support of the move during Monday’s meeting.

Shepherd said she hadn’t heard too many concerns from staff about the move.

“Staff has been hoping, actually, to be able to have a consolidated program, where they can be supported all under one roof,” she said.

School Board Member Jane Barbian expressed worries about parking and handicap-accessibility at the two-story Bull building. Shepherd answered that there was more parking at Stephen Bull than either Red Apple or the early education center. Rosalie Daca, chief academic officer, said that she will work with Chief Operating Officer Shannon Gordon’s team to determine any changes or upgrades that need to be made to the building prior to next school year.

“Ms. Gordon’s team is poised to work with us,” Daca said. “We’ve identified the fact that the space will hold the students. Where everything individually goes, we were waiting for board approval.”

Transportation concerns

School Board member Matthew Hanser asked how student transportation would be impacted by the move, as Red Apple is almost three miles, about a 10-minute drive, from Stephen Bull.

“One of the things we’ve talked about as a board is to make sure we’re shrinking our transportation radius, not increasing it, creating a hardship for parents,” Hanser said.

Daca said that approximately 98 percent of students are transported to Red Apple by their parents, while some children who attend Racine Early Education Center receive transportation, as it is an overflow site that serves 4K students whose boundary-school programs are full. Daca said it would be hard to know if there will be issues or changes with transportation until students enroll next year.

The Bull building was originally opened as Stephen Bull Elementary School in 1914. Unified’s special fine arts curriculum was started at the school in 1975. Between that time and the end of last school year, the inside walls of the school have been decorated with a mosaic and many murals.

“I love the building, so much character, I’m glad that it’s being used,” Barbian said.

“Staff has been hoping, actually, to be able to have a consolidated program, where they can be supported all under one roof.” Amy Shepherd, Racine Unified director of early learning

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Caitlin Sievers covers cops, crime and the west-end communities. She's a lover of cats, dance and Harry Potter. Before moving to the Racine area she worked at small papers in Indiana, Illinois and Nebraska.

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