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Alex Blank, center, a first-year kindergarten teacher at Longfellow New Tech Elementary School, meets with families and students during a “We Are One” community open house Aug. 29 at the school. This year, Longfellow houses students from the now-closed Hosford Park Elementary School.

CALUMET TOWNSHIP — A portable unit sitting outside Lake Ridge New Tech Schools’ Longfellow New Tech Elementary School probably isn’t what you think.

After closing its Hosford Park Elementary School this summer, Lake Ridge Schools is investing $1.35 million in improvements to its only remaining elementary school.

The more than 550 kindergarten through fourth-grade students at Longfellow will see new counseling rooms, restrooms and hallways in the area of the school cafeteria in the elementary school improvement project.

The portable unit sitting south of the school isn’t being used for classroom instruction. It’s a mobile kitchen.

As the school looks to improve its kitchen area, meals will be prepared and brought to students in the Longfellow cafeteria for the foreseeable future, Lake Ridge Business Manager Laura Hubinger said.

The district showed off the capabilities of its new mobile kitchen unit in a recent open house.

“That’s one of the things we wanted to show parents,” Hubinger said. “We’re still able to feed the kids very well.”

Hubinger said the renovations were needed to accommodate the influx of students coming into Longfellow following the closing of Hosford Park. 

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The district announced the school’s closure in April as a part of a districtwide cost-reduction plan enacted following Lake Ridge’s failed November referendum. The district also shared plans to cut more than 20 positions over the summer ahead of the coming 2020 tax cap deadline in which Lake Ridge is expected to lose 51% of its property tax levy.

Class sizes at Longfellow sat around 22.5 students per class last year with a maximum capacity of between 27 and 30 to 1, Superintendent Sharon Johnson-Shirley said this spring.

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Fifth-grade students, once taught out of Lake Ridge’s two elementaries, were moved this year to Lake Ridge New Tech Middle School to accommodate the changes.

Investments in Longfellow are being paid out of the district’s food service fund, Hubinger said, with support from the school’s food services provider.

A storage unit also will be constructed on the school property as a part of the project’s final phase. The district currently has bids out for the project, due in October.

Hosford Park, though not open to its former elementary classes, now houses adult education classes through a partnership with the Center for Workforce Innovations, Hubinger said.

The district also hopes to open a food bank distribution site at the former elementary school with the help of community partners.

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Education Reporter

Carley Lanich covers education in Lake County and throughout the Region. She comes to Northwest Indiana from Indianapolis and is an IU-Bloomington grad.