By ANTHONY ZILIS azilis@news-gazette.com

URBANA — Three years ago, the Urbana school district commissioned a land-use study for its middle and high school campuses, which laid out plans for outdoor lunch seating areas.

Those plans were still years away, but with an influx of COVID-19-related funds from the American Rescue Plan passed by Congress in March, the district decided to build those spaces this summer.

“What we are doing is not anything extra,” Superintendent Jennifer Ivory-Tatum said Monday.

“These projects would have been done during the campus land use projects, anyway. When we create those spaces, this part of the project will already be done.

“Those spaces will look very different when we actually do the full project, but right now, it’ll serve our purpose being able to have some spaces that our older students, who don’t have to stay inside for lunch, can utilize.”

Ivory-Tatum called lunch, when students are unmasked, the district’s biggest hurdle in 2021-22.

The new spaces include courtyards in the middle school that are currently unused and concrete pads outside the high school, which will have picnic tables set on them.

Recent guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urging schools to require masks of both vaccinated and unvaccinated students doesn’t alter Urbana’s back-to-school plans.

Ivory-Tatum said all students would have been required to cover their faces — at least for the first few weeks of the year — already.

The district also had plans in place for COVID-19 testing, along with vaccination clinics for staff, students and families.

Having more definitive direction from the CDC than the previous update, though, was appreciated.

The district will detail those plans at tonight’s board meeting.

“We were starting to get anxious about whether we would have firm guidance, because in our district we’ve been primarily remote,” Ivory-Tatum said.

“We were already planning on universal masking just to give our school community an opportunity to be back in person, to make sure all of our mitigation measures were very tight.

“We’re going to be offering an extensive COVID testing protocol; we’ve been collecting vaccination cards this summer.”

Urbana Middle School will also add a portable classroom, Ivory-Tatum said — something the district hasn’t had since 2005 — so that students will be able to be spaced at least 3 feet apart.

After holding a vaccination clinic last week, the district will put on another for staff, students and families next week during its Back to School Night in an outdoor setting.

Ivory-Tatum said several other events would also include vaccination clinics.

“We’re offering as many opportunities as we can and make it as easy and user-friendly as possible (to get the vaccine),” Ivory-Tatum said.

“If you’ve been on the fence about getting the vaccine, we’ll have people there to give you all the information you might need.”