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H-F board president assures community fine arts is a priority

Steven Anderson, president of the District 233 school board, on Tuesday reassured more than 200 students, parents, staff and Homewood-Flossmoor community members the “project for fine arts is not off the table.”

It was a Monday finance committee decision not to allocate funds for architectural work on fine arts building additions that drew the crowd. 

“Do not let social media drive your decisions that make you angry about stuff that’s not going to happen,” he told the audience. “It could happen tomorrow.  It’s very important that you all know this project has not been shut down.”
Parent Karen Hoag, whose son is an Viking orchestra member, asked: “If you’re not stopping the project, if you’re delaying it, give us a timeline. Give us the steps. Tell us when, where and how it’s going to happen. That way, social media won’t blow up on you.
“We need to know what you’re doing. What are the steps we’re going to take to move forward with what we originally agreed upon and what we were told was going to happen. So we’re just asking for information. Tell us what’s going to happen,” she said in addressing the board.
Anderson said, following board policy, Hoag would receive a written response to her questions.
The district added space needs for fine arts to its long-range plan in 2007. In fall 2017, architectural drawings were presented to the school board. The H-F administration and community gave its input on the plan at numerous planning sessions. To fulfill all desires and needs, the project would be between $12 million and $14 million and the school board has said that cost is too high at this time.
The construction project would include: Phase I — a black box theater, Phase II — a new wing for music programs and Phase III — a move for fine arts to a much larger space remodeled for its needs.
The board has estimated if work is done in phases, Phase I would cost between $3 and $3.5 million, plus $190,000 for architecture fees. 
The board has $8.5 million in capital reserves that could fund Phase I.
“I hope the collective intention is to let us work together to figure out how … we can accomplish the mission, which is the will of the people, and the people want this expansion to happen,” a parent told Anderson.
Students spoke passionately about the benefits of the fine arts program and how they hoped the board would give their efforts the same recognition and attention as it does to sports. Several spoke about the estimated $23 million North Building updates that were completed in recent years and included new facilities for all sports programs. 
Fine arts students said they are in crowded spaces using old equipment.
“Our facilities are running at full speed on flat tires and haven’t had an update in decades,” said Jack Johnson, a junior.
The music program often has choir and orchestra rehearsing in the same hallway. As one student said, it is as if football and soccer were practicing on the same field. 
“It doesn’t work,” she told board members.
One parent talked about pre-performance preparations for band, which now has 200 members. Students have to dress in three different places because there isn’t a single place that can accommodate them all except the Mall Auditorium, which is the main performance venue.
Theater and speech teams don’t have enough rehearsal time in the Mall Auditorium. The theater technical crew is using outdated equipment, according to fine arts advocates.
Jackie Wargo, fine arts department chair, who spoke for the fine arts faculty, said, “Our students are succeeding right now in spite of some of these obstacles we have.” Students “choose the programs, many times over their personal lives, because they believe in the fine arts, and so I implore you to do the same. Chose H-F fine arts like we have.”
Students spoke proudly about the many fine arts accomplishments, this year, including the three top honors at the Illinois High School Association’s Group Interpretation and Contest Play competition. In addition, 10 H-F students were selected for the All-State Cast.
Anderson said he recognized audience members’ passion for fine arts, noting: “I see it and I love it.” He added, “There’s a (board) commitment to every single one of you kids in this room.”
At a finance committee meeting on Monday, Anderson said he couldn’t agree to move the plan forward because he argued the administration had failed to reduce the proposed 2018-19 budget by 1 percent to fund the $190,000 in architectural fees for design work for Phase I.
Member Tim Wenckus said at that meeting he couldn’t agree to move forward because of his concerns about future legislative moves that could saddle the district with teacher pension fund contributions and reduce financial support through a property tax freeze.
He told the H-F Chronicle Tuesday  he didn’t know how long he would wait to get a clearer perspective on those state issues.
“We’re going to work around some of the planning still,” Wenckus said. “We had Plan A and the cost came in double.”
Member Jody Scariano supported the $190,000 expense to get the project moving.
The Phase I construction calendar set a start date of September so that the space could be enclosed and interior work could go on through the winter months. That scenario is now delayed because the board hasn’t allocated funds for the architectural work needed to develop information for construction bids.
“This project requires more study because it’s expending millions of dollars of our school’s money, taxpayer money. We want what’s best for you, but we have a fiduciary responsibility to the community and to the school district to make sure we study this,” Anderson said.

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