AERO opened its new school last week in Burbank. (Supplied photos)
AERO opens new facility in Burbank
By Bob Bong
When Queen of Peace High School in Burbank announced it was closing in 2018, the good folks at AERO special education co-op saw a golden opportunity.
They purchased the school’s 13-acre site at 7659 S. Linder Ave. in August 2019 for $3.2 million. The plan was to retrofit the high school for use by the hundreds of special needs students that AERO serves.
That didn’t pan out. Refitting the school was determined to be too expensive. So, the plan was changed to demolish the high school building and build a new campus specifically for special needs students.
All that work came to fruition last week when AERO opened its new campus in Burbank after a three-year construction project and a $50 million pricetag.
“It’s amazing,” said AERO Executive Director Bill Roseland on Monday. “It’s a game changer.”
The co-op includes 11 school districts from Lyons, Stickney and Worth townships and programs for AERO’s hundreds of special needs students had been everywhere throughout the district.
“We had programs spread out over those 11 districts,” Roseland said. “Now they are all held in the same building. That makes a big difference for the staff and especially the students.”
The new building is 150,000 square feet and is centrally located among the 11 districts at 5400 W. 77th St. in Burbank.
“The new building is wonderful,” said Roseland who took over as executive director a year ago. “Parents that have been here have been impressed.”
Roseland said there was a lot of input into the project so the building would meet the needs of its students.
He was also impressed by the cooperation that paved the way for the new building.
“What happened here is really rare,” he said. “This kind of cooperation doesn’t exist anywhere else in Illinois. Superintendents from 11 districts got together and worked together to get this project off the ground. The way they stepped up and made servicing the students was truly inspiring.”
Roseland said the $50 million cost was divided between the co-op and the state.
“The 11 districts contributed $25 million and a state grant from Governor Pritzker took care of the other $25 million,” he said.
He said AERO can accommodate up to 450 students, there are about 400 enrolled now. Another 350 students receive related therapies.
Roseland said the building would be a lasting legacy to everyone who worked to get it done.
“This building will be here long after we are all gone,” he said.
AERO not only includes classrooms, but state-of-the-art life and commercial life skills and home life skills training areas.
The name derives from four high schools that help make-up the co-op: Argo, Evergreen Park, Reavis and Oak Lawn.
Other districts that belong to the co-op include Summit District 104, Evergreen Park District 124, Willow Springs District 108, Indian Springs District 109, Central Stickney District 110, Burbank District 111, and Ridgeland District 122.
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