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Hawthorne Elementary School
The former Hawthorne Elementary School building. (Eric Gregory / Lincoln Journal Star)

Lincoln Board of Education members were generally supportive Tuesday of a committee recommendation to move the district's alternative high school to the former Hawthorne Elementary School.

The recommendation moves the board one step closer to a decision about what to do with the building, which has been empty since the last day of school in 2008. The board voted to close the elementary school at 300 S. 48th Street in 2007.

"I have a growing sense of excitement about this decision," said board member Kevin Keller. "It's exciting to think of returning Hawthorne to a place of learning."

The full board will make a final decision Nov. 10.

The committee's recommendation to move Bryan Community, the alternative high school now located at 1801 S. 40th St., and two district offices to the Hawthorne building is the one favored by district officials.

Those officials gave the board committee four options that involved different combinations of district offices and either Bryan Community or two programs for students with mental illness or behavioral problems.

The top option -- and the one recommended Tuesday by the committee -- would move special education and student services from the district offices to the building. Both those departments deal directly with students.

The discussion highlighted a growing problem for the district: overcrowding at the central district office at 5901 O St.

Although most board members seemed to support the committee's recommendation, some said it was time to take a look at a plan for dealing with the overcrowding issues, rather than doing it piecemeal.

For instance, if the board votes to move Bryan Community, it will free up that building, and officials don't yet know how to use that space.

"We're creating a domino effect," board member Kathy Danek said.

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Several board members suggested addressing a "big picture" plan for district offices in its 10-year facilities plan that outlines future renovation and construction projects.

Curtis Wood, president of the Witherbee Neighborhood Association, said his organization endorsed the committee recommendation. The Hawthorne building lies in the Witherbee Neighborhood.

Although most residents would like to see the building as an elementary school, housing the alternative high school there fills the neighborhood's goal of having students use the building, Wood said.

The neighborhood association is concerned about the vacant building and supports a committee timeline of having the building ready to be used by January 2011, Wood said.

He also said neighbors would like to see Bryan Community renamed the Hawthorne Community.

Several board members supported changing the name to reflect the neighborhood.

"It's a simple concession to neighbors that went through lots of pain when (the board) closed the doors (of the elementary school)," Danek said.

Board member Ed Zimmer said any renaming should involve the neighbors and the Bryan students and staff.

The committee answered several questions raised by the board at its last meeting, including assuring board members there's enough off-street parking to handle high school students who will drive to school.

Reach Margaret Reist at 473-7226 or mreist@journalstar.com.

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