District 300 approves building projects

Board hears some objections to plan

CARPENTERSVILLE – Construction will start in April on a $6.5 million plan that gives new buildings to District 300 administrators and Oak Ridge School students, despite objections from skeptical parents and district employees.

After numerous roll calls on Monday, board members from the Carpentersville-based school district unanimously endorsed building plans and approved two contracts that put Elgin-based Dewberry Architects in charge of designing the projects by the end of March.

Facing a room full of district parents and residents, board members attempted to quell concerns from the audience that the district developed the project in secrecy. The administration publicly unveiled the building project for the first time two weeks ago.

"We aren't taking this (project) lightly," member Susie Kopacz said. "We have done our due diligence, but we need to do a better job of communicating that to the public." 

The building changes move the roughly 80 students at the alternative Oak Ridge school to the administration's Central Office in Carpentersville and give the students a permanent home for the first time since the program started in 1998.

Construction crews will start $1.42 million in renovations to the near 15,000-square-foot Central Office by April 15, with a targeted completion by late July, according to the architect contract approved Monday. The converted office building should be open to students by the start of the 2014-15 school year, district officials said.

Dewberry architects will simultaneously design a new 32,000-square-foot, two-story office building for administrators by mid-March. Crews would then start constructing the $5.07 million building on district-owned property near Jacobs High School in Algonquin by April 15.

Administrators will use Hampshire High School as a temporary office until their new building is ready sometime in early 2015.

During the meeting, numerous parents urged members to table the project until the public had more opportunities to review the proposal and assess whether the relocation projects were the best options for the district. Administrators earlier reviewed the options the district exhausted to find a location for Oak Ridge students.

Billita Jacobsen, a support staffer at Lakewood Elementary, questioned the district's priorities and said conditions inside the elementary school are deteriorating.

"It was surprising to read about, what I feel, is unnecessary spending of over $5 million to build a new building when you have a school in appalling conditions," Jacobsen said. "If the (state) money ever sees the light of the day, shouldn't that money go to repair existing buildings?"

District officials know they can use $750,000 from the sale of the current Oak Ridge site, plus a $50,000 state grant, to pay for the majority of the Central Office renovations. But the financial details are hazier for the remainder of the project.

Officials will learn in the coming months whether they are in the running to receive $60 million in overdue capital grants – dating to 2004 – from the state.

If that money doesn't arrive, the district could use $1.2 million leftover from existing bonds or take a "short-term loan" to cover the project until the state comes through with the capital grant money, said Chief Financial Officer Susan Harkin.