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Homewood schools will get air quality improvements, new classrooms

The District 153 school board agreed to spend approximately $8.2 million to make needed improvements at Willow, Churchill and James Hart Schools. A portion of the work will be paid for with federal pandemic funds.

At the board’s meeting on Monday, Nov. 15, the finance and property committee outlined the work for the aging buildings. Alex Bosch, chair of the committee, said the work will fall into three categories.

  1. Air quality: HVAC work in each of the schools estimated at $4.2 million, with $1.2 million of that covered by federal dollars. This will improve air circulation and air quality in the buildings.
  2. Space needs: Adding two classrooms at Churchill School for $1.56 million, and bringing a mobile unit to Willow School with four classrooms, two small offices and bathrooms adding 4,000 square feet of space.
  3. Infrastructure updates: Replacing three boilers at James Hart for $775,000; two boilers at Willow School for $420,000; improving insulation with updated window coverings which over time will reduce energy costs; $400,000 in roof repairs at James Hart; and $100,000 each for roof repairs at Willow and Churchill. Renovations to all school bathrooms at a cost of $600,000. These improvements total $2.6 million.

The COVID-19 pandemic spurred some of the improvements because Congress appropriated money in the pandemic relief Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act for improvements to school buildings, said Superintendent Scott McAlister. Of the $2.3 million the district received in its third installment of the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funding, $1.2 million is set aside for HVAC work to improve air quality.

McAlister gave credit to the maintenance staff that has been keeping the outdated systems going. He said schools were built in the 1950s and 1960s. Willow had a major renovation in 1995 and Hart in 2002, but Churchill has never had major work done.

The committee consulted with the maintenance staff, district architects Wight & Company, with Gilbane construction managers, and municipal advisor Elizabeth Hennessy of Raymond James, who helped board members determine how much the district could borrow through bond sales.

The school staff was surveyed, and 133 persons responded with needs and suggestions that the committee used to prioritize projects.

The board is hoping work can be completed by the start of the next school year. Construction of the new classrooms at Churchill should be ready in January 2023. The board realizes that these deadlines could be altered due to labor shortages and supply chain delays.

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