BY CAROL ROEHM
DANVILLE — District 118 school board Wednesday night moved forward with plans to renovate East Park Elementary School, the third and final school to be improved in the district’s three-year renovation project.
With bids for the base project and alternate work coming in substantially less than architects’ estimates and Tuesday’s bond sale netting the district $8.2 million plus another $4.3 million the district already had set aside, building and grounds director Ron Henton recommended board members approve the base project plus Option 2 of the alternate work for a total cost of $12.5 million.
“The bids have come in favorably,” Henton said. “We won’t get this opportunity again because of the economy.”
Option 2 entails the construction of a new cafeteria with a seating capacity of 448 and a new kitchen built in the large grassy area to the south of the main entrance of school. The architects originally estimated the total cost of the project including Option 2 to be about $14,050,000, but bids for the work came in $1.5 million less than the estimates.
Option 1 would have entailed constructing a cafeteria but not a new kitchen.
Henton said East Park students eat lunch in a commons area surrounded by classrooms and the noise is disruptive to the nearby classes.
Henton added that “there are inefficiencies in the 50-year-old kitchen.”
Still, board members Frank Young and Dan Brown said they were unsure about spending all the money on a new kitchen and a new cafeteria.
“I’m not sure of the benefit of the cafeteria. Why not do the school (renovations) and just the kitchen and not the cafeteria? It’s $2 million less,” Young said, adding he was worried about exhausting the district’s reserves.
“My concern is going with the top project (Option 2) and spending everything we have,” Young said. “I’m not convinced a cafeteria is as important in an elementary school as it is in a junior high.
“It makes me nervous to spend the money with the uncertainty with our funding,” he said.
Brown agreed. “There should be another option than a $2.5 million cafeteria. Just because we got lucky on this, I think we should give it more consideration.”
Board president Bill Dobbles disagreed, saying, “It would be extremely unfair to cut out the cafeteria. We should finish the project.”
Fellow board member Dr. Randal Ashton added, “I think we’ve been given an early Christmas present. It’s a wonderful opportunity we should not pass up. Fifty years ago, the board didn’t finish the project (adding cafeterias to the three junior highs), so we should finish it now.
“Now’s the time to put up or shut up and do the project right,” he said. “We have the money to do it without dipping into the reserves.”
The board voted 6-1, with Brown casting the dissenting vote, to approve the project as well as contracts for $7,765,906 for McDowell Builders of Sidell for general contract work; for $4,355,614 for Strahl Mechanical of Danville for mechanical work; for $796,940 for Strahl Mechanical for plumbing work; and for $1,048,821 for Glesco Electric of Urbana for electrical work.
All four were the lowest bidders and have worked on the renovation projects at South View and North Ridge middle schools.
If construction gets under way soon at East Park, the renovations could be substantially completed by mid-August 2013.
Also on Wednesday, school board members:
--Agreed to prepare a letter to request a federal mediator to assist with negotiating the district’s teacher and teaching assistant contract.
Superintendent Mark Denman said the district’s collective bargaining rules allow either party — the district or the Danville Education Association — to call for the assistance of mediator and it is considered a joint request for mediation.
--Learned the interest rate will be 3.22 percent for 20 years on the issuance of $7 million in general obligation school bonds and no interest on $1.2 million in Qualified Zone Academy Bonds for the East Park renovations. The QZAB bonds will save the district $750,000 in interest payments.
Business Director Heather McKiernan praised the bond counsel, saying, “They got us the best interest rates and most money possible.”
--Reconfirmed and adopted the 2012 tax levy after it was on display for 30 days.
Last month, board members approved to set the 2012 tax rate at $5.07 per $100 equalized assessed value, which is payable in 2013 and is a slight increase from the current tax rate of $5.03 per $100 equalized assessed value.
With the district’s equalized assessed valuation expected to decrease 5.42 percent for 2012, the district expects a total loss in tax revenue of $712,577 with the $5.07 per $100 equalized assessed value tax rate.
District 118 school board members will meet at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 16, at the Jackson Building, 516 N. Jackson St.