Neal Math and Science Academy eighth-grader Melissa Estrada thinks she’ll be a little sad to see her middle school go.

North Chicago-based biopharmaceutical company AbbVie officially announced Thursday — in an event attended by elected officials, school staff, students and community members — its $40 million commitment to build a new middle school for the 3,560-student district.

The existing building has problems with water leaks, uneven heating and cooling, ongoing electrical issues and water-main breaks that have forced the school to close for repairs, North Chicago School District 187 Superintendent John Price said.

These conditions can end up being obstacles or distractions for students, forcing them to run to their lockers to get coats if they’re cold, or making it harder for them to concentrate, Principal Wayne Williams said.

“When it’s really hot, we can’t focus on our work,” Estrada said. “We’re really frustrated with how hot it is inside the classroom. We just get agitated and start moving around a lot.”

Some of classrooms can’t be used because they sit above the boilers, and so the temperatures in the rooms cannot be regulated, AbbVie spokeswoman MK Steel said on a tour of the building Thursday afternoon.

Despite temperatures in the 30s Thursday, some classrooms still had their window air conditioning units and fans running.

Wood was installed over one section of hallway where a pipe causes the wall to become hot and emit steam, she said. The school used to post a staff member there to prevent students from accidentally touching it.

Despite the troubles, Estrada said she’s had “a lot of experiences, good experiences and bad experiences” at Neal, and “at the end, you always have the teachers and friends and your family to be there to support you.”

She has so many memories within the building that the moment the new school is complete and the existing structure is demolished will be a bittersweet one, she said.

The new building will be built east of Neal Math and Science Academy’s existing gym, which will be preserved and rehabbed internally, Price said. Once construction is complete, the rest of the 66-year-old existing structure will be demolished.

The district’s governing bodies already signed off on the parameters of how the donation would work at its meeting last month.

The plan is for the district and a foundation newly created by AbbVie to partner with IFF, a nonprofit financial institution that can guide the project and oversee the finances, according to district records. IFF will work with the district and its facilities advisory committee to design the new building.

The next step following Thursday’s announcement will be forming committees made up of staff and community members who will help design what the new building will look like, said Laura Schumacher, AbbVie’s vice chairwoman of external affairs and chief legal officer.

“Our goal with this new school is to provide students with a 21st century learning space, but we know a space isn’t just a floor, walls and a ceiling,” she said. “It’s where students will learn to collaborate and move forward on a path to success.”

The new building will be about 4,000 square feet larger than the existing structure, she said.

Public forums are planned for late April with pre-development work to follow, including environmental surveys, assessments and the selection of architects and contractors, according to a timeline provided by Steel.

The engagement of the community “has been crucial” to the process so far and will continue to be so, said Dora King, the chairwoman of the Independent Authority, one of the district’s state-appointed governing boards.

The schools are “the heart of our community,” especially Neal, since it is the district’s only middle school, King said, noting that she attended the school along with her husband, three of her children and now one of her grandchildren.

The final design will be shared with the community in spring 2020 with a groundbreaking in early summer 2020, according to the timeline. Construction would be completed ahead of school opening in September 2021.

The first students to graduate from the renovated Neal Academy — North Chicago’s only middle school — are currently third-graders, Schumacher said.

An AbbVie official had originally mistakenly said the new school would open ahead of the 2022-23 school year, Steel said.

emcoleman@tribpub.com

Twitter @mekcoleman

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