Now that the property tax issue is settled, the planned renovations to Eisenhower Elementary School are back on track even as the Washington project has begun to fall behind schedule.
The potential Eisenhower project was in doubt earlier this spring after the District was informed that the property tax disbursement payment would be coming in July instead of June as it had the previous two years.
District 117’s fiscal year runs from July 1st to June 30th each year and the change in timing though small, meant a shift of upwards of $9 million from one budget period to another. Superintendent Steve Ptacek says once all was said and done, the shift in payment dates won’t have any effect on the budget.
“We will still get the same number of property tax payments that were normally planned for. We didn’t have that excess payment that we got at one time, that like bonus boost for one year. Once again, no one’s fault on this, and quite honestly when we received that we were excited. Because we didn’t know about ESSR funds, we didn’t know about the online sales tax and we saw that as an opportunity to do another school.
At that time we were thinking one more school. Since then with the online sales tax and the ESSR funds, now we’re doing Washington and we’re going to do Eisenhower. So we’re actually in a better place now than we were two years ago when we received that extra check. So being the optimist about this, it’s best now if it’s just in July, always in the next year and that will allow us consistent budgeting moving forward. And we’re in a good space.”
Ptacek suggested to the District 117 School Board during their regular July meeting Wednesday night, that going forward the administrative office will elect to receive the paper check instead of an ACH deposit, so they can ensure the deposit always hits the bank at the start of the new fiscal year.
During the June meeting, the board discussed the possibility of having to put an indefinite hold on the majority of the Eisenhower project and only go forward with adding the new gymnasium to turn the current one into a dedicated cafeteria.
Ptacek says they looked at all of the other miscellaneous projects planned for out of the ESSR funding, such as new flooring at Jacksonville High School, and realized they could use those funds to complete the Eisenhower project which includes converting the open concept space to individual classrooms.
“We’ve seen drawings and it’s really going to look good. It’s going to be a nice facility and we’re building inside some extra classroom space in case we have a large class and have to go to three classes per grade level instead of two, which every once in a while we need to do. Eisenhower and South where we see that happen.”
As for the Washington project which is currently in full swing, Ptacek says there is no issue with the budget at this time, even though there was more asbestos in the building than anyone first thought.
“They went over today that there is roughly $45,000 in extra asbestos abatement than we had planned a couple of weeks ago. But the asbestos bids came in about $60,000 under what they were originally planned, and we have an extra $20,000 built into the asbestos contract to cover unforeseen costs, so we’re still in the net positive.”
The school board was given a little bad news on the project last night as it was learned the contractors now estimate the project will miss the December break target date and will finish closer to the first of February.
Ptacek says however, the problem isn’t materials and supply chain issues, it’s manpower. “The concern is of course timing and as they are saying, they are having a problem finding personnel to come and work. We hope that when August starts and all of the other school projects are over that then we will have a mass flood of workers for the main contractor and all of the subcontractors.
But this is why we went and got the modular classroom system so we are not on a time crunch deadline, and the modulars look wonderful on the inside. I think when the kids go there they are really going to enjoy them.’
District 117 has the modular classrooms leased for two years, however, if they do not need them, they do not have to pay for the second year. Ptacek says depending upon when the Washington project finishes, there is an outside chance the District may not need the modular classrooms to complete the Eisenhower renovations.
Washington Project Manager Bob Roads did report one other unexpected delay during recent work. Roads said many have forgotten over time that the 90-year-old school building was built in the same location as the first Washington Elementary School, which was destroyed by fire sometime in the early 1900s.
He says while workers were digging in the basement for space to install new sewer lines, they ran into the foundation of the first Washington School, which had to be broken up and carted out of the building. A section of the old foundation was also discovered by excavators while they were digging foundation trenches for the new gymnasium north of the existing building. The foundation base for the new gym is set to be poured Thursday.