WHEATON – As Community Unit School District 200 faces the weight of tens of millions of dollars in pressing facilities work, the Board of Education is taking steps to shape what that work might look like in the years to come.
The board voted 5-2 on June 10 to approve a multistage contract for architecture firm Perkins+Will to provide suggestions for the future of existing facilities and programming at the Jefferson Early Childhood Center as well as review the conditions of facilities, programming, strategic initiatives, technology and more districtwide.
The contract also includes an option for the firm to provide recommendations on how to better use space in buildings across the district for current and future needs, and lead seven community engagement sessions on facilities.
Superintendent Jeff Schuler said the sessions would be modeled after the district's previous engagement efforts.
The contract is part of the creation of the district's master facilities plan. The district is looking to address about $51.3 million in high-priority work on district buildings in the next three years and millions more in the next decade.
The firm will be paid $73,044 for the approved portion of work, with an additional $123,052 should the district pursue the optional component, according to board documents, and several thousand dollars in reimbursables.
Board Vice President Brad Paulsen, himself an architect for school districts, said he was comfortable with the fee and that the contract could help inform the district of all its options before it moved forward with construction.
"It would be foolish, I believe, for the board to spend ... $51 million fixing our buildings [when] we haven't thought at all about how kids are learning today, how teachers are teaching, how the impact of technology goes in our schools," he said. "It would be irresponsible."
Board members Jim Mathieson and Jim Gambaiani voted against the measure, questioning whether the full expenditure was necessary.
Mathieson said he worried the district would spend nearly $250,000 and not be able to afford the firm's findings.
Gambaiani, who sits on the board's facilities committee and approved bringing the contract before the board, suggested taking the contract and its goals to the voters in the form of a ballot question in November. He also suggested the board ask the firm to do a smaller project, looking at a few district buildings, before moving forward with a full study.
Mathieson agreed the board should start smaller, and said the district might be "biting off more than we should be chewing."
Board President Jim Vroman said the contract could help address what many believed to be the downfall of a previous referendum to build a new early childhood center: a lack of a cohesive plan and communication. He also said participants in the district's previous community engagement process called for a more complete assessment of building needs.
"What we've heard is 'We need a comprehensive idea of what it is you are really doing,'" he said. "'Are you going to be coming back to us in another two years and be asking for more money?' ... Here we have an opportunity to have that comprehensive evaluation performed. We're not making any decisions of what we're going to do."
Schuler said the project would likely take about a year.