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Elmhurst District 205 board tackles facilities proposals at workshop

Brad Paulsen, senior vice president for strategy and development at design and delivery firm Wight & Co., addresses Elmhurst Community Unit School District 205 Board of Education members at their Jan. 27 workshop meeting.
Brad Paulsen, senior vice president for strategy and development at design and delivery firm Wight & Co., addresses Elmhurst Community Unit School District 205 Board of Education members at their Jan. 27 workshop meeting.

ELMHURST – After hearing presentations on major facilities adjustment proposals at a workshop Jan. 27, some Elmhurst Community Unit School District 205 Board of Education members called for price tags and more careful consideration.

They heard from various people who had been working on the feasibility and communication surrounding facilities plans for the maintenance and upgrade of the district's schools, including as they relate to implementing all-day kindergarten.

"We cannot offer all-day kindergarten in the district if we don't get additional capacity," Superintendent David Moyer said.

Though some schools do have room, Moyer said he thinks it wouldn't be right to offer it at only some schools.

"I think that I could safely say that the community would not be comfortable with the idea that all kids don't have access to the same programming, and I wouldn't be comfortable with that either," Moyer said. "I don't think that that would be appropriate to move in that direction as a district if only some students had access to that."

Moyer said the district is starting a subcommittee to look at all-day kindergarten curriculum and programming. All-day kindergarten would be optional and could not be mandatory, according to Illinois school code.

Presenters included Lesley Rodgers from Strategies 360, strategic communications specialist Marcia Sutter and Brad Paulsen of Wight & Co., which had been tasked with assisting with creating the district's long-term facilities plan and exploring the feasibility of facility proposals incorporating the needs and desires identified during the Focus 205 process and the results from the Educational Alignment Study.

Sutter said the contractors assumed the board would approve plans communicating a possible referendum to the community at its Feb. 13 board meeting so the district could proceed by August to have a decision on whether to go for a referendum next year.

The communications consultants would begin with a State of the Schools financial presentation to the community, hold community meetings, and send more surveys and mailings to the community, Sutter said. They would present results and updates to the school board in May and begin a funding discussion. They also hope to form a citizen's team to ensure they were communicating the plans effectively.

After more than two hours of presentations on facilities proposals and how the problems with the district schools could be communicated with the community, board member Jim Collins called for another workshop where they could have a "thorough, two-way discussion" of what the alternatives are, the costs for the projects and why the district needs these facility changes before the school board asks the community for input and direction on the proposals.

"I think the board needs to thoroughly vet this because it's every one of our reputations on the line for what we bring to our community. Because implicity, if we bring it to the community, it says, 'This is what the board is asking for.' And I'm not sure that I can vote yes to what I've seen so far," he said.

Board member Kara Caforio said she wanted the advisers to prioritize the maintenance issues the district needs to solve and their associated costs.

"We have a lot of significant maintenance issues that we don't think we can probably pay for. ... To me, that's the problem we want to solve. After that, you can look at Future Ready, but in order of priority," Caforio said.

Ebner said the cost of just maintaining the aging buildings is millions of dollars.

"We're talking about something that's going to be in our community for the next 75 years. I think it deserves a thorough vetting," Collins said.

Karen Steufen said the board members and the community need time to discuss the issues.

"It's not for us. It's for us on behalf of the community," Steufen said.

Moyer said the draft concepts presented Jan. 24 were built over the past few years based on principles of accelerating learning for all students and creating equity and educational alignment across the district. He said initial draft costestimates were available for the projects, but they wouldn't be definite until closer to the end of the process, though they fell within the ranges of what Elizabeth Hennessey, managing director at William Blair and Co., presented at an April 25, 2017, board meeting.

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