By Sept. 25, District 233 Finance Committee members expect to have all the information they require to help them make a decision on the proposed fine arts expansion project at Homewood-Flossmoor High School.
The committee was prodded by community members at the school board meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 21, to agree on the date and information needed.
The next Finance Committee meeting is Nov. 13, but Tim Wenckus, committee chairman, said he could call a committee meeting sooner. The Finance Committee needs to make a recommendation to the full board on the project. It voted twice in May, but both times a proposal to start the project failed 2-1.
Board discussions on how best to meet the needs of the expanding arts programs have been ongoing for nearly a decade. Today one in three H-F students is involved in fine arts. The spaces are too small to accommodate the needs of each group. Often students are practicing in hallways.
On Sept. 19, it will be a year since the proposal to add space for theater, band, orchestra, choral and fine arts programs was presented by DLA Architects. The proposal calls for building two additions onto the South Building and renovating other spaces. The Finance Committee missed the target date to bid the project in May and break ground on the first addition in September 2018.
The project has gone through a few revisions and the latest cost estimate is $12 million to $14 million. Changes were made to the original plan after meetings in fall 2017 with community members, parents, faculty and students on their wants and needs. DLA presented the revised plans to the board in April 2018.
At the school board meeting, Wenckus reiterated that he and Finance Committee member Beth Larocca have “one focal point” in their decision saying they want documentation on the wants and needs of the various departments “and match that to what the architects put together.”
Wenckus said his question is: “What is it we need for each of these groups. What is it specifically that applies to that need. I don’t think we have that.”
Board member Jody Scariano, who sits on the Finance Committee, and twice voted for the project, said that information has been available for months, and the plan on how to satisfy the needs of each group was presented by DLA at the April school board meeting at which every board member was present.
“I believe the request by Tim and Beth for data and needs assessment is a way of stalling and looking for a way not to move ahead with the Fine Arts expansion — an expansion that will make H-F a destination school.”
Board member Debbie Berman said she doesn’t understand the delay from the Finance Committee.
“What is the hold up right now? Is it the finances or needs and wants? We paid them (architects) to do that. No one has that expertise. Who is going to make that decision if we don’t rely on our experts?” she wondered.
Berman asked Wenckus: “What is our drop dead date for this year so we know what we’re shooting for – us around this table and everyone in the community.” He didn’t give her a firm date.
The board has $62 million in reserves and $42 million of that is a 10-month school operations cushion, as set by board policy.
Steve Anderson, board president, said the estimated $20 million reserve pool is larger than what the board was originally looking at when the fine arts project was first presented and could cover the costs.
But, he cautioned that the board does not know if the Illinois legislature will impose a property tax freeze or shift teacher pension costs to the district. Those will cut into that estimated $20 million reserve.
“So if we spend down our reserves how are we going to replenish them?” he asked.