117 Seats New Board, Approves Eisenhower Contract as Washington Takes Shape

By Jeremy Coumbes on April 27, 2023 at 4:18pm

A number of teachers in Jacksonville School District 117 will be forced to pack up their belongings when school ends in roughly three weeks, with some moving in, and some- moving out.

The new District 117 School Board was seated last night, with new members Sherri Trace and Byron Poole replacing the outgoing Jan Ryan and Robert McBride. The new members were not given an easy first meeting however as a decision on the proposed renovations to Eisenhower Elementary had to be made.

Compounding the issue was the continually increasing cost estimates over the course of planning. Superintendent Steve Ptacek says when the project was first planned it was projected to cost somewhere between $8 to $8.5 million on the high end, but now that number is closer to between $10 and $10.5 million.

More than $6 million of that is coming from remaining ESSR funding which needs to be spent through by September of next year. Ptacek says areas were found to cut the price down, and combined with $1.6 million remaining from the last bond sale, the extra cost will be doable, and the board ultimately approved a contract for the project to move forward.

Built in 1972, Eisenhower Elementary was intended to be a temporary facility until a larger brick building could be afforded, but soon after, district-wide enrollment started to decline.

Ptacek says that “temporary building” is now more than 50 years old and more than just interior walls are needed for it to last another 50 years, like replacing the asbestos exterior walls.

The exterior walls in Eisenhower right now are asbestos and they are getting old. So those would all be removed and there’s new cladding that will go on the outside, new insulated walls, and there will be stuff on the outside so it won’t be just straight metal walls.

So it’s going to become a more permanent facility with a new cafeteria, a new secure entrance, walls throughout the building, student lockers, a wonderful new entrance with a new administrative complex and it’s really going to feel like a regular school. And we know it’s going to help the academic atmosphere tremendously.”

Ptacek says parents should not be concerned after hearing the word asbestos though. “It is an asbestos substance that is all clad, it’s solid. So there’s nothing that is frayed, nothing that anyone can breathe, but the issue is that taking care of it, and to replace it is very expensive. So this project will ensure that, and outside of still North and Murrayville-Woodson buildings, I think we’re going to be predominantly asbestos-free throughout the district. But anywhere we do have asbestos it is encapsulated.”

All the discussion about Eisenhower also hinged on the progress of the current total renovation of Washington Elementary, which Ptacek says he’s finally feeling some relief on. “I felt comfortable with moving forward with this project which would require the modulars for next year. I feel very comfortable that the Washington students will be in Washington at the beginning of the school year.

They’ve done a lot of work and a lot of growth in the old section of the building over the last month, and yes, I finally feel like I can breathe a little sigh of relief that Washington will be completed for our students for the next school year.”

Ptacek says the target date for starting the physical move back into Washington is June 30th, followed by the Eisenhower move into the modular classrooms soon thereafter.