The Fieldcrest Board of Education held a public meeting Wednesday night attended by a sparse crowd at the Fieldcrest gymnasium to discuss the issue of whether to repair or build a new school building to satisfy the Life-Safety requirements mandated by the State of Illinois.
The meeting began with an address by Wenona teacher Joan Anderson. She said the success of a school is not determined by the age of the building. She commented on her experiences teaching at different schools in which a rich school district had modern buildings but the students were not held to high standards because of parental influence whereas in a smaller school district with older buildings the students developed a good work ethic. She said teachers and parents are the ones who determine the success of a student, not buildings.
Fieldcrest Superintendent Dr. Dan Oakley started the meeting by summarizing the findings of a second opinion on repairs to the Wenona school by engineering firm Cordogan Clark & Associates in which the repair estimates were 20-30% lower than an estimate by the school's engineering firm, The Farnsworth Group. However, Dr. Oakley said the estimate from Farnsworth included a 25% variability in the estimate which he said puts both estimates in the same ball park. He said the $10 million estimate to repair the Wenona school would extrapolate to $20 million to repair all school buildings.
Dr. Oakley said the cost to repair or build new will be high and indicated a decision must be made shortly in order to start work on complying with the LIfe-Safety requirements. He said a referendum must be ready by August in order to have it on the ballot for the November elections.
Board President Joe Kirkpatrick said the board will discuss the building issues at tonight's meeting and will vote on whether to repair or build new at the next board meeting on February 28.
Board member Elizabeth Palm said she did some research that revealed that it would cost $22 million to build a new school building for 700 students. The cost was arrived at by using the State of Illinois figures of $200 a square foot for a 112,000 square foot building which is the size needed for 700 students. She felt that it would be more cost effective to build new rather than repair.
Board president Kirkpatrick wants to build new rather than repair stating that a new building would be more energy efficient and would be cheaper to maintain than the older buildings. He said the second repair costs need to be at least 50% cheaper than previously quoted in order to justify repairing the buildings. He said a new building would less likely need to be updated to future Life-Safety requirements.
Board member Tim McNamara was in favor of a new building saying that repairing the old buildings is like "pouring money down a rat hole." He asked where do you stop spending money on fixing up old buildings? He said the older buildings would require more repairs from future Life-Safety studies than a new building.
Board member Charles Lohr said it is important to do what the public wants and the public wants to keep a building in every community. He wants to be conservative and not put a lot of stress on the taxpayer. Although he said if a new building can be built for $20 million he would go for it but he doesn't know if that is an accurate figure. He mentioned that another alternative is to have a hybrid plan in which a building can be added on to an older building and then later tear down the older building. He mentioned that the communities need to be involved in the new building if the board decides to go that route.
Mr. Kirkpatrick said if the decision is to go with a new building, the communities will be allowed to get involved in presenting options to the board for the new building.
Board member Scott Hillenburg talked about the effect that a declining EVA would have on a community that would lose a school building. He tended to favor a hybrid approach suggested by Mr. Lohr.
Board member Mykin Bernardi said she is leaning towards repairing the buildings while board member Kimberly McKay said she is undecided yet on whether to repair or build new.
The board will make a decision on the issue at their next board meeting February 28 at 6:30 pm.
The part that isn't mentioned is that the firm giving the second opinion was not given access to the buildings to determine if all of the repairs Farnsworth said were needed actually are. The second opinion was just a cost estimate for the exact same repairs...that is how it was explained to me. If a true second opinion were given, maybe the repair costs would have been reduced by closer to 50%.
Jordan Meyer: I would have liked to say this after the meeting, however there is no public comment at the end to clarify questions. I'm confused how an EDUCATED vote is going to happen next week. We have the costs to repair all buildings, and a second opinion on East at 30% of the original bid, but no cost for the price of a new building? This is concerning that individuals can actually vote on a new school when they have no numbers to tell us what will happen to tax payer dollars. At one point there was a document online of the cost of a new building in the range of 40 million and then last night the board allows an invalid number of 20 million to be thrown around. This does nothing for making EDUCATED decisions! Get facts, give facts, vote. Everyone needs to come to the meeting next week!
Josh Jones: I think the lack of public attendance is due to the fact that there is very little new information being discussed at the meetings. Besides the second opinion the school board just discusses the same thing over and over.
Jordan Meyer: I would encourage you all to look at the school building repair website (link below). This has numbers from actual estimates as I think there was some misinformation at last night's meeting. There is an estimate from the fall of 2015 for a new MS/HS at $48,471,586. Much different than the $22 million quoted at the meeting.
Pam Jolly: Interesting thoughts from the comments. I totally agree with Jordan Meyer, how do you make an educated decision without all the figures? Also, has anyone thought about the cost of demolition for the old buildings if a new one is built? What about the cost to the towns that no longer have a building so they no longer have the business from people who come into their town? What about the cost to property owners in either property tax increases or possibly the money that would be lost in property values? What about all the money already spent on adding on to the Toluca building and also the Minonk building? I know its been some years ago but really we need to stop being such a throw-away society. The list goes on and on! I say, start fixing what we have. We do it with our homes, why not with our older school buildings? Just my opinion!
Marcia Kettwich:have found that attending the meetings is very worthwhile and I'm hearing the information discussed. Dave has been to the meetings and the articles he has written are accurate summaries of the meetings. Going back through his articles or published school board minutes will provide information you may not be aware of. I also encourage everyone to attend all of the meetings related to our schools. Or contact one of the school board members if you have questions. At the Peer Review meeting Dr. Oakley explained that a K-12 building would be $40 Million while a 6-12 building would be $30 Million. Bring your questions to the next meeting.