Dist 117 Considering Options for Washington, Murrayville Woodson

By Jeremy Coumbes on May 13, 2021 at 11:30am

District 117 is looking at the options for both Washington and Murrayville/Woodson Elementary Schools as both buildings are in need of continued repair, or event replacement.

Superintendent Steve Ptacek says a combination of federal stimulus monies and an unexpectedly higher tax revenue means discussion of the potential for future projects will happen sooner than anyone expected coming into this year.

During the April school board meeting, Ptacek reviewed Phase 3 of the Vision 117 plan for updating educational buildings in the district. Phase 1 lead to the renovation of what is now the Jacksonville Middle School, and Phase two lead to the renovations at both Lincoln and South Elementary schools.

Ptacek says the unexpected federal stimulus and internet sales tax funding combined with funds the district has been saving toward the next phase could allow for a complete renovation for Washington Elementary School, and future consideration for Murrayville/Woodson.

He says he will be finishing up and releasing a YouTube video of the same presentation viewed by the board last month that addresses Phase 3 options for the public’s input.

Just to go over this with the entire community. When I went over it with the board, in Phase 3 we are talking about a lot of money, the one thing I have to say is and what I told the board was, we no longer can continue to keep putting money just into these two old buildings to simply repair them.

If we are going to maintain those buildings being open, we need to invest substantial money in those buildings for complete renovations. Or we need to consider other options and close them. So one of the two, and I’m not advocating either way.”

He says with Washington being built in 1932, and Murrayville Woodson’s main portion dating back to 1917, the district can’t keep throwing good money after bad in constant repairs.

We paid one million dollars at Washington two summers ago just to correct and fix the masonry on the outside so it didn’t fall on people’s heads. Nobody is driving by Washington now and saying oh my god the school looks so much better.

It didn’t have a net gain, there is no educational impact on the community, there was no educational bump, it’s just repair. Where if we do this $11.1 million renovation at Washington, it will look like Lincoln and South, like a brand new school.

The video is going to include how we are talking about expanding it with a new gym on the north side and a new administrative complex, and an elevator to make it ADA accessible. It will be effectively and brand new beautiful school.”

Ptacek says with the increased revenue and existing savings, the district is able to consider a bond sale, potentially in August, that could help get the Washington renovation on wheels.

Ptacek says although many options including highly-touted attendance centers are possible options, any completely new stand-alone building construction requires a referendum to be passed in an election.

He says the board is not confident one will pass, and stimulus and bond money have time limits on when the funds would need to be spent, which could kill even any renovation project if it were to fail due to not having enough time left to plan, design, build and complete.

Ptacek says it is the job of the school board to look at and present to the public all options for what to do with either school, even the options that are not favorable.

He says with that in mind, options in the presentation include closing one or both of the schools, even though the Washington renovation is close to being within reach.

We have then multiple options to do with Murrayville/Woodson, and we are going to have this talk. I will commit to this for anyone listening, there will not be a school closure without there having been a community engagement process. That, both the board and I agree we will commit to.

So there is not going to be any reason to have to rush to the next board meeting to fight against the closure because that’s not how we operate. I know people are concerned about how there were some sudden decisions made in the past. That was before this board, and before I was here.

We will make the decisions and include the community before any closure.”

Ptacek says he hopes to have the YouTube video of the Phase 3 presentation released within the next few days.