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Grundy County co-op, GAVC looking at partnership

MORRIS – The half-built home on Indian Grass Road in Morris is known only as “project house #22” for now, but those at the Grundy County Special Education Cooperative have visions of turning the house into the cooperative’s newest classroom.

Students in the co-op’s REACH Transition Program would spend their classroom hours within the house learning life skills and independent living.

The transition program was designed for special education students ages 18 to 22 who have finished their academic careers and could benefit from more practical life lessons, so they can transition to independent living. Some of those lessons include cooking, grocery shopping, cleaning and paying bills.

Currently, the transition program is based out of Minooka Community High School, where the co-op has built a small apartment for use as a life-skills classroom.

The cooperative’s executive director, Neil Sanburg, said he and the board were looking to expand into a larger, community-based life-skills classroom, when board members from the Grundy Area Vocational Center suggested using one of GAVC’s student-built homes.

“We saw this as a unique opportunity at a partnership with the vocational center,” Sanburg said. “It’s a really neat concept because we would have kids building a house for their classmates to learn in.”

As of now, the project is in the preliminary stages, as neither the GAVC or cooperative board have officially decided to move forward with the project. But Sanburg said the feedback from district superintendents and others has been overwhelmingly supportive.

“Neither one of us has done something like this before, so right now, we are just trying to make sure we are crossing all the T’s and dotting all of the I’s to see if this is possible,” GAVC Director Lance Copes said.

The house is being constructed by a group of local high school students in GAVC’s building trades program and is set to be finished by the end of next school year, according to building trades instructor Matt Anderson.

The students do everything, from the electrical wiring to the basic plumbing, Anderson said. When completed, the home will have four bedrooms, three baths and a full kitchen.

Sanburg said he looked into using a more commercial space to house the new classroom, but liked the idea of placing the students in a more realistic neighborhood setting.

The students would only use the house during classroom hours and would spend part of their days in the community – working, grocery shopping or performing other daily-living chores, Sanburg said.

Sanburg and the cooperative’s program coordinator Kate Ross attended the Morris Planning Commission meeting Wednesday evening to begin the process of obtaining the necessary zoning permits.

Some of the commission members had questions about busing, but Sandburg assured them the buses going in and out of the subdivision would be no different than the ones currently traveling through there with the GAVC’s building program and general schooling transportation.

Sanburg said everything is still tentative, but the co-op, GAVC and city will continue to work toward a partnership.

“It sounds like a tremendous program,” planning commission chairman Robert Gilbertson said Wednesday. “I’m sure there is a need for it, and I think it would be a great thing.”

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