The Examiner U-46 News Feed
U-46 approves additions to elementary schools
By Seth Hancock
The Board of Education in School District U-46 unanimously approved expenditures over $13.5 million to build three additions to elementary schools at the board meeting on Monday, Feb. 8.
The additions include $4.9 million at Coleman, $4.6 million at Laurel Hill and $4 million at Highland.
At the Feb. 1 meeting, Jeff King, chief Operations officer, said “at all three sites, the addition is only a part of what’s happening. We’re also addressing other things” like window replacements at Laurel Hill. He said “roughly 60 percent is the addition.”
The items were also a part of a $23.4 million capital project list for 2016 which King said “the list is very fluid still, especially as far as the projected cost for the bids that have not been opened yet.”
Board members Cody Holt and Jeanette Ward voted for the additions after signaling some trepidation at the Feb. 1 meeting for varying reasons.
Ward has been in opposition to the district’s plan to implement Full Day Kindergarten (FDK) district-wide next year, and the additions are needed to implement that. Ward said on Feb. 1 “I’d like to vote on a proposal that didn’t include additions for Full Day Kindergarten,” but Rickey Sparks, director of Business Services” said they were “planned additions.”
King estimated that four or five of the classrooms of the 26 to be added are for FDK while the rest are to address overcrowding issues in Hanover Park and Elgin.
Before the vote, Ward said: “Predominantly the additions are due to necessary boundary changes and necessary expansions, therefore I plan to vote yes.”
The administration has not communicated well the necessity for additions. Additions were not a part of any proposal until the FDK proposal was made, and it wasn’t until recently the district said the additions were also for overcrowding.
After the Feb. 1 meeting, district spokesperson Mary Fergus responded to an Examiner inquiry and said: “The District identified the need for additions before the FDK proposal. Boundary changes alone would not address our overcrowding issues.”
Previously, Ward suggested that maybe families from overcrowded schools could choose less crowded schools in the district with their own transportation, but the administration has not looked into that.
Fergus said the district was “not aware that the board has looked into the possibility or studied the feasibility. Board policy outlines that the BOE would have to review and approve such a process.”
To note, the administration has in the past looked into suggestions by board members.
U-46 CEO Tony Sanders said other items will be voted on for FDK such as instructional materials, and Ward said that “I just don’t think we should be implementing new programs if we don’t have the funds to support the programs and the infrastructure we currently have.”
That came after Traci Ellis asked how many capital projects were removed from the list to a recent bond proposal being pulled from the agenda? Ellis has yet to publicly state her opinion on that proposal.
King said 10 items were removed which Ellis said “we will not be able to pursue” those because of the bond proposal being removed, but King said: “Well, we’re not pursuing this year because we don’t have the sources. Next year, we’ll have to make a determination depending on how urgent the need is, and then we balance that with the funding source.”
Asked if any capital projects were removed due to the cost of implementing FDK, Fergus said there were “none.”
Holt asked on Feb. 1 for King “to verify publicly that the district does have” a long-term plan concerning when and what projects need to be done.
King responded: “We have a 10-year life/safety plan which we’re required to produce, and that’s in the middle of being updated now. So we have that. In addition, what we tend to do every year around October, November plant (operations) puts a list together of locations where we have concerns or issues that have come up.”
Ellis said “so we have a plan. … We don’t have funding sources to match to that list.”
Holt said: “One of the reasons I asked you that question was, personally looking at this list is I have to weigh the life/safety needs and the maintenance repairs and the building repairs against, in my mind, building additions which I don’t know that I can support building additions when we need to repair some of our buildings and maintain those buildings.”
Holt said before the vote: “I will be voting yes to building additions tonight. As I look at it, I look forward to the future and I think about some of our capital projects that we need to get done in the future, and I’m going to be hesitant in the future to issue any new debt towards building repairs, building maintenance because I do trust that administration knows where they’re placing their money this time.”
Phil Costello said on Feb. 1 and asked: “If you’re looking at a very long period of time, what percentage of the budget would be required to, regardless of the bonds or any other debt, would we have to designate to fulfill our capital and infrastructure needs?”
King said “between 3 and 5 percent” and that spending should be “between $10 and $20 million” for the “roughly $5 billion in assets.”
Costello noted in the bids on the additions, the district took the lowest overall bid but some companies offered lower bids on some of the projects at each school, most notably a bid that was $44,000 less for window replacements at Laurel Hill. Costello asked why not take the lowest bid for each separate project.
Chris Allen, director of Plant Operations, said “it’s for the continuity of the project” and consistency of one construction company being used.