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H-F High asks community for input on expansion plans

The District 233 school board is hoping to get feedback through Nov. 17 on its survey of proposed plans for additions to Homewood-Flossmoor High School.
The board is considering building a black box theater for rehearsals, presentations and staging needs, and building an addition of new classrooms for fine arts. Estimates range between $7 and $12 million.  The district has money in reserve to cover the costs. The work will not result in a tax increase, said Ken Parchem, the district’s business manager.
At a public meeting the morning of Thursday, Nov. 9, administrators and board members gave a handful of residents an overview of the fine arts program, the Media, Visual and Performance (MVP) Academy curriculum starting in fall 2018, the finances available to the district for the project and the need for the improvements.
The board held three meetings for residents. Separate meetings were conducted for fine arts supporting groups and parents during the week of Nov. 6.
Residents unable to attend any of the meetings are asked to fill out a short online survey on the high school’s website at hfhighschool.org/community.  Questions include rating the current facilities and assessing the proposal, as well as offering comments on the facility needs for the Fine Arts Department and other departments.
Although arts are not a required course for graduation, enrollment in arts courses has been growing. Today 39 percent of students take at least one art course, said Jackie Wargo, chairperson for fine arts.
By establishing the MVP Academy, H-F will be the only comprehensive high school in the nation to offer students a diploma certificate showing their extensive involvement in an arts curriculum, explained Nancy Spaniak, curriculum director.
Superintendent Von Mansfield told residents the additions are part of an ongoing plan for improvements at the high school.  The start of the MVP Academy doesn’t hinge on the new spaces, but they will enhance student performances and creative work. 
The board anticipates making a decision on the project in the next six to 12 months.
One resident asked if the board would consider renovating space, rather than building new spaces. Mansfield said giving fine arts news space will have a benefit for the Applied Academics program which has run out of space and could expand into the classrooms vacated by fine arts.
Board member Jody Scariano stressed the school district’s AAA bond rating from Standard & Poors, the highest possible rating assigned to an issuer’s bonds by credit rating agencies. because H-F can easily meet its financial commitments.
The construction project “will not put us in a position where we lose our AAA rating” because the board has been very good about maintaining reserves and balancing its budget for more than a dozen years, Scariano said. 
Board President Steve Anderson said what we hears from the community is “be responsible with our dollars, but don’t take anything away from our kids.” He said the board is trying to do that. It wants H-F to have the best facilities for a well-rounded education for all students.
Theresa Thomas of Flossmoor urged the board to move forward with the plans. She said her son, now at Parker Junior High, is anxious to come to H-F because of what the fine arts program will offer him. Thomas said students today have different avenues to express themselves. The arts program “is a hook for a lot of students. This is giving them hope of what they can do” in the future. 

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