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Fieldcrest Board to Pursue Another Referendum

Monday, December 03, 2018 - Posted 9:20:34 PM

In an informal poll the Fieldcrest Board of Education favored building one new school building to replace the existing high school and perhaps the middle school in Wenona at a public meeting Monday night in the Fieldcrest High School cafeteria.

Board members Joe Kirkpatrick, Tim McNamara, Scott Hillenburg, Kimberly McKay and Elizabeth Palm all agreed to pursue the construction of one school building. All favored having the building in a central location except Ms. Palm who wanted to put the new school in Wenona.

If the proposal is approved in a future meeting, there will be a referendum in April for voters to approve the proposal to construct one new school building.

Board member Charles Lohr wanted to wait for the new school board that is elected in April to make the decision on the building issue while Mykin Bernardi favored doing repairs to the middle school and high school and then looking into a hybrid high school later down the road.

At the beginning of the meeting, James Liner told the board the best solution is to close the middle school in Wenona and repair the high school in Minonk. He said this is not a win/win situation. He concluded that this solution is what is best for the district as a whole as it will minimize repair cost and minimize the loss of revenue to the school district, reduce school expenses, and enable the district to meet the life-safety mandates of the State and will not require another referendum.

Mr. Liner also mentioned how over-inflated the cost figures were for repairing the high school which seemed like an attempt to prove that building a new building was more cost effective.

Mr. Liner's comments are printed in full in this editorial.

Jerry Faw agreed with Mr. Liner that the cost for repairs seemed to be over inflated while the cost of constructing a new building seemed to be under inflated. He said a second opinion is needed to determine the real cost of repairing the school buildings. He said there is no need to tear down a church building. He said the board should take its time and wait 3 to 5 years to see how enrollment goes and not worry about the school being closed down by the State. He concluded by saying people want answers to their questions at these board meetings.

After the speaker sessions, Fieldcrest Superintendent Dr. Dan Oakey opened the meeting by stating the purpose of the meeting is for the board to come up with options to satisfy the life-safety requirements of the state. He said the school currently has a $22 million bonding limit and the cost to repair both the middle school and the high school is $27 million.

Dr. Oakley said the options available are to have a referendum in April to approve funds for a new building, repair the middle school and high school or do nothing.

Board president Joe Kirkpatrick said the school could be shut down if it does not meet the life-safety requirements of the state. Board member Kimberly McKay wanted assurance that the school will not be shut down since it will not be able to meet the immediate life-safety requirements by 12-31-2018 as originally established. Mr. Kirkpatrick said state inspectors did a walk through in the school buildings last week and have not received any notices from the state of any violations which means the school has another year before another inspection takes place.

Board member Charles Lohr said he favored waiting until a new board is elected in April and let them make the decision on how to handle the school's life-safety issues. He also added that the school needs a new engineering firm.. He said his feedback is that each community wishes to keep a school building and said the state will not shut down a school as long as it is showing progress in satisfying the life-safety requirements.

Ms. McKay said the sooner the board makes a decision on the school issue the better and didn't want to wait for a new board. She said the current board has all the information it needs to make a decision whereas the new board will have to become knowledgeable in all the issues.

Board member Elizabeth Palm agreed the current board should make the decisions as the process is very complicated. She also agreed that the repair numbers were probably too high. But she cited the example in Lacon where a grade school was shut down on a moments notice to remind the board not to be too complacent about the urgency of satisfying the life-safety requirements.

Board member Tim McNamara said the board needs to make a decision now and stated that he would rather have repair numbers that were too high rather than getting stuck with high numbers after getting low estimates.

Board member Scott Hillenburg replied to the possibility of putting the high school in Wenona by stating that Minonk's EAV (property value) is almost 3 times higher than Wenona's and if Minonk loses the high school the property values in Minonk will go down 10 to 12% which could result in $350,000 in lost revenue to the school each year.

Both Mr. Kirkpatrick and Mr. McNamara said they favor building a 7-12 building in a central location. Mr. McNamara said it is too expensive to maintain an older building in the long run and it is like "pouring money down a rat hole".

Ms. Palm said she felt it was the community's wishes to have a school building in each community and thought it best to put a 7-12 building in Wenona and demolish the high school in Minonk. She said her second choice is to repair the existing buildings.

Scott Hillenburg responded to Ms. Palm's comments by saying that if enrollment keeps falling, the board will eventually want to close the primary school in Minonk which will leave Minonk with no school even though it has the most students and contributes the most to the school's revenue.

A surprising turn of events took place at the end of board meeting when board president Joe Kirkpatrick confronted board member Charles Lohr accusing him of making the board exposed to bid rigging. According to Mr. Kirkpatrick there was a leak in the ladies rest room at the middle school in Wenona and the school was given a $25,000 estimate to repair the leak by the school's firm that takes care of such matters. Apparently Mr. Lohr took a walk through the building with another contractor to inspect the damage and was given an estimate of $2300. Mr. Kirkpatrick said the school's attorney stated that Mr. Lohr's actions were taken without permission from the school and could make the board liable to bid rigging.

Mr. Lohr said all he was trying to do was to help the school save money because he felt the $25,000 estimate was way too high.

Mr. Kirkpatrick said the board will have a vote at the next board meeting on whether to remove Mr. Lohr from the board. Mr. Lohr said he is fine with that.

Minonk resident James Liner told Mr. Kirkpatrick that he was out of line in discussing potential sanctions of a board member in a public session. He said those matters should be discussed in a closed executive session and by not doing that the board is exposing itself to liability charges from Mr. Lohr.


Thom Louis Gensler: Is it possible that in 5 years 1/2 the kids will be getting schooled online? I haven't seen many new schools built or replaced in communities Lately. The only ones being built are in whole new communities where housing and business is prospering but usually just new communities! God Bless our teachers!
Susan Skaggs: Thom Louis Gensler I've been saying that all along. With advanced technology I'd be willing to bet we will not have a need for school buildings!
Donald Cline: Make do with what you have to work with .
Broc Hovey: What's the option of building a new school in the middle of the three school districts to appease all the towns instead of three schools one in each town granted utilities ( power, sewer, gas, and coms) the only off side would be new athletic field baseball football and track and also bus garage?
Michael Cave: 32.9 mil this time. 10% failure fee...
Susan Skaggs: What's the problem with a dedicated school board member seeking another bid on a leak in a bathroom? $25000 bid from a highly expensive firm and another contractor bid $2300 that Charlie had look at it! Do you suppose that's been the problem all these years? Hiring an expensive firm to bid on everything be it a small project or a large one! Let's have local qualified contractors bid on jobs. Let's eliminate the expensive engineering company and bid out for a new one! Kirkpatrick should be ashamed of himself for calling out his on one of his co board members. And the superintendent should have told him that this conversation will be resumed in private. What a cheap shot and another fellow board member who is only interested in facts and saving money. The current school board is adamant about getting a new school built and will not stop till it's done! Hopefully moving out of Illinois once I can retire. But with higher taxes that probably won't be easy!
Kim Tarmann: I've always felt that the school board members should be on the board the length of the contract they pass or some sort of cap put on the number of years they can serve. After that they must sit out a certain amount of time as well. Doesn't hurt to have fresh eyes with fresh ideas and objectives. Debate and discussion is a good thing and people need to be open to compromise along with good listening skills as well as being proactive and not reactive. Thank you Thom I agree, God bless our teachers.
Rick Miller: That's great, one man tries to save money and they threatened to remove him from the board
Kerri Stoeger: He's challenging the status quo and that's exactly what needs to be done. Healthy debate is good and necessary...until one doesn't get their way or is being held accountable...
Kayla Jones: and the thing that got us all is that the person that Charlie took through the school was at the board meeting and told Kirkpatrick his firm doesn't bid on those jobs. so it doesn't even matter. so what the big deal is I don't understand. Charlie tries to save our school money and they just want to throw him off the board because he is the one on the board that is AGAINST building a new school. its a bunch of bull. he is for the people,unlike the 2 that always sit next to him. its truly a sad deal. It was unreal last night watching it all unfold.