Meeting in Watseka

Photo contributed

Unit 9 School Board member Rusty Maulding talks as Bridgett Wakefield from Reifsteck Reid and Dennis Bane and Keri VanSant from DLR Group prepare to talk about phase one of the building research they have been doing in the district.

The Unit 9 School Board has started research on building utilization.

The board heard from representatives of the architectural firm Reifsteck & Reid Thursday night.

School board member Rusty Maulding said, “The board of education is exploring new building options in order to discontinue use of Nettie Davis and remove the risk of flooding there. We are also evaluating the cost benefit of expanding the building scope to eliminate repairs and updates at Wanda Kendall and Glenn Raymond schools as well as provide better education to our students.

“Since these are community buildings it is important for the community to be involved in the process of developing any plans for a new building,” he said.

Maulding said that the board has a “strong desire to move past the challenges at Nettie Davis. Last year we spoke with surrounding school districts to see if we could come together for the betterment of all and as a way to discontinue use of Nettie. We appreciate the strong support of Unit 9 community at the polls by a three to one margin. Unfortunately consolidation failed by a very close vote in the Crescent-Iroquois District.

“While the district was considering consolidation, we were also evaluating the necessary updates at all of our buildings. With the help of Mr. Robert Zummallen we have adopted a district wide 10-year capital improvement plan. It was revealing just how much it will take to reasonably continue to operate these buildings. Our building projects for the past two years have focused on the high school because we felt strongly that we would continue to use that building well into the future, regardless of the outcome of consolidation.

“All projects have focused on student safety, meeting health and life safety mandates and needed structural repairs. The board of education has contracted with Reifsteck & Reid and Company and DLR Group to research and present possible financing options for building a new school. Before any further discussion can be had it is critical for the community to understand what the potential costs to us may be as well as what other funds are available to benefit the district’s position or lessen our burden.

“Tonight’s presentation will be concerning our financing options along with some budgetary realities for what various building projects would cost. Please remember that there have been no decisions made on a scope of project but rather the board of education will utilize tonight’s information to determine if and how to proceed in future steps.”

Bridgett Wakefield, project architect for Reifsteck and Reid, Dennis Bane and Keri VanSant of DLR Group made the presentation.

Wakefield said there are three phases to the work they are doing and that the first stage, the stage they are in now, is to look at funding options and what funding is available.

The group has worked with federal and state agencies to determine if funding assistance would be available, as well as worked with the district’s bond counsel to understand local funding options.

Bane said the state budget has $!.5 billion approved for school construction funding. The allocation rules for that funding will be published in March. It is possible, he said, that there will be a 50/50 match. It is also anticipated that any new project will have to create new jobs and the funds will not be able to be used to pay down debt of past completed projects.

The group has also talked with local legislators: State Sen Jason Barickman, State Rep. Tom Bennett and U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger.

The group said that they have some preliminary planning scenarios, which board president James Bruns said did give the board members some sticker shock.

The group said that they determined that with current enrollment of 690 students in K-8, a new modernized K-8 building on a new site would cost $46.7 to 56.4 million. That would be a building that is 113,000 to 127,000 square feet.

A new modernized K-5 building on a new site, for 472 students would cost $31.2 to $37.8 million. This was for a 75,680 to 85,140 square feet building.

A new modernized K-4 building on a new site, for 400 students, and at 64,160 to 72,180 square feet, would cost $26.5 to 32.1 million.

The researchers stressed that there are many parameters that went into determining these numbers. Bane said he is sensitive to dollars and cents. Each school district is different and the scope of work is different for every school district. To get some parameters for planning purposes, he said, they based some of the numbers on work that was done at the new school built in the PBL district. “That was an addition onto an existing building. We used the dollar per square foot numbers from that based on when it bid and we escalated it out to when we thought this project would bid at the earliest. Because that is a real number, the escalation.

“The other thing we want to make sure that we deal with is all-in costs. It’s real easy to call around and ask for numbers and not sure what those numbers mean. So we we deal with is all-in numbers. That means everything from soil borings to foundations to furniture to engineering fees to roof, you name it. That’s what is going to to take to do the project, not just the bid number.”

He said they have not talked to any teachers about how education is presented now as to how it should be presented in the future. He also said that they had to take some mean numbers to determine some things because any piece of the project is going to have a range of cost involved depending on a number of different variables.

“We’re just putting that out there so we have a little dose of reality in terms of some expectations, knowing that the funding mechanisms are fairly fluid and a little stretched out because of some programs being in limbo; and our 50 percent match, what does that mean to get us another 50 percent. Are numbers able to be added on top of each other. Can we leverage the whole thing or can’t we leverage the whole thing. Again, it’s not a easy solution. This is just kind of a benchmark.”

He said it is important that people not start talking that a $46 million building is going to be built. “It’s just not that,” he said.

Bruns said the building and grounds committee was first thinking a new K-8 building until they saw the numbers. He said even with funding they don’t believe the district can afford it.

The committee has thought a K-4 or K-5 building could be possible.

There are federal funding options, the researchers said. There is a pre-disaster mitigation grant program, which is currently in it’s funding year. Next year, the program will change to a Building Resilient Infrastructure and Community program in 2020. The 2020 funding has not been worked out.

Bane said the city has been working with the school district on the building issue. Watseka Mayor John Allhands was present at the meeting Thursday night. One of the issues looked at by the researchers is if the city and park district would also need a shared space, such as an auditorium.

Bane said an option for levying would be a .30 tax increase through a referendum, which would be $8.6 million. If the district would get any funding through state or federal dollars that would increase the amount of funds available for a new building.

Bane said, too, that the group could also look at other options, such as not building a modernized building, but building an addition to an existing building or other options.

Maulding said Unit 9 has more students than several districts in the area, but the tax base is disproportionally lower, which presents other challenges.

Bruns said that the board has said they would like to get down to two buildings, which would cut down on maintenance of older buildings and other issues.

It could come down to seeing what funding becomes available and working with what that amount is, said VanSant.

All agreed that there is much more work that needs to be done.

Bruns said the board would like to hear from the community on what they think needs to be done.

“Let us know if you have any comments or questions,” he said.