Saturday, December 01, 2012
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CEL school board accepts 3 resignations

Building renovation plans continue: Experts explain funding and advise on HVAC options

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[December 01, 2012]  The Chester-East Lincoln school board had a special meeting on Thursday to address some important issues that had come up since the scheduled meeting earlier in the month. The board also discussed a few more details that were not addressed at the regular meeting in regard to the potential building projects.


After brief discussion, the board accepted three resignations. The school board does not have to take action in the case of a resignation, but as stated in regulations, they do have to accept resignations at a public hearing.

The first resignation was that of Karen Beverlin. Beverlin will step down from her position as the school's business and compliance director on Dec. 20. Superintendent Jennifer Hamm said that Beverlin will continue to assist the school with the transition to treasurer's reports beginning in January.

The other two resignations accepted by the board were from board members.

Joel Vinson has decided to step down from the board due to conflicting priorities in his personal life. Hamm said Vinson told her he was working on a special homeland security project that he could not openly discuss. Vinson also told Hamm that he would be more than happy to help the school in any capacity that was open to him in the future.

The other resigning board member is the board president, Keith Birnbaum. According to Kenny Golden, who has been the vice president, Birnbaum is also facing conflicting priorities outside of CEL, though he did not provide exact details.

Public comments

Jeff Brooks, former CEL school board president, stepped forward to voice some concerns.

Brooks expressed his concern over the financial capabilities of the school as they move into the future. Brooks said that while he understands that the potential building projects would not be a drain on the education fund, other upcoming expenses, such as paying for teacher retirement, will.

"I understand that that won't affect your (the school board's) building project, but that's going to affect the ed. fund, it's going to affect the amount of money you've got coming in, and you're not going to be able to afford all of that and keep the ed. fund up," Brooks said.

Brooks also said, as to the school's finances, he has looked at the figures that have been released to the public, and he does not believe that the school will be able to pay off the costs of these projects.

"You're (the board) making a lot of assumptions over a 20-year period," he said, referring to the idea of the 1 percent sales tax remaining stable over the likely amount of time it would take to pay off the building projects via financial bonding.

Brooks did say to the board that the recent upgrades to create a more energy-efficient school -- such as the new windows that have been installed in the oldest wing -- are a good idea, but overall, he thinks that the school needs to re-examine their priorities.

Brooks also told the board that he is not satisfied with the lack of up-to-date meeting minutes on the school website. Furthermore, Brooks considers the minutes to be vague and lacking in a summary.

"I can't make heads or tails of those minutes," said Brooks.

Paying for the projects

Ann Noble of Stifel Nicolaus was present to address the board. Stifel Nicolaus is a finance company that will be working with CEL in trying to sell bonds to pay for any potential building projects. Noble provided a little more information as to their options.

The school would be using fixed-rate bonds to pay for the improvements. The bonds would be paid back with a likely, though not definitive, estimated interest rate of around 3 percent.

Before the school can sell any bonds at all, a third party will need to be brought in to complete a feasibility study as to the school's ability to repay. Should the borrowing be deemed feasible, the school could borrow an amount up to 80 percent of the annual 1 percent sales tax received. The remaining 20 percent would be left as a cushion, which could be used to pay for different projects that were not specified as being paid for with bonds.

Usually, bonds take 20 years to pay back. Should the school wish to pay the money back sooner, the interest rate would be higher.

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Renovation costs and floor plan

Mark Graves, an employee of CTS Group, was present to inform the board of a few suggestions to make the most out of their financial situation in relation to the renovation projects. CTS Group is an engineering firm that would be working with BLDD Architectural on the improvements.

Graves echoed statements from previous meetings with the board by saying that the existing building is structurally very sound, and the school is fortunate to have a solid structure to work with.

One of Graves' biggest concerns with the existing building is the heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system, or HVAC. As it stands currently, the school operates with one boiler, no internal air-conditioning system and poor ventilation. Graves also said that members of the public who have been engaged in the design process share the same concern.

Graves suggested that the board could install the new heating system first and wait to install an air-conditioning system until a later date. The air-conditioning system would make use of existing pipework within the school.

Other issues Graves touched on were the outdated electrical systems in the school, the lack of a secure main entrance to the building and easier access to the cafeteria during the school day.

Graves also provided some figures to the board as to how much money is available through grants. There are Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation grants available in a total amount of $20,650. Federal grants could provide another $78,056.

Finally, Graves suggested that the board could defer certain parts of the project to a later date. Currently, there is no plan set in stone for which improvement is made to the school first. However, Graves also warned the board that delaying too much of the process could result in increased building costs and interest on the bonds needed. Starting over entirely would cost the school more money in trying to come up with new designs.

At the previous meeting, the board was shown a potential floor plan for the school improvements. Jean Underwood, an employee of BLDD, was present to show the board a slightly altered floor plan.

The largest change in the plan concerned the cafeteria. If the board sticks with the new floor plan, they could feasibly fit more students into the new cafeteria and reduce the number of lunch periods in the school day to two. As a result, students would have a longer time for lunch than with the current schedule of four lunch periods.

The other major change to the plan was the inclusion of a larger storage room. This storage room would likely be used for school records, which are currently stored off-site due to a lack of space. Hamm said that storing the records on-site would save the school around $1,400 a year.

A new public hearing will be held on Monday at 5 p.m. to provide the public with another opportunity to weigh in on this process.

Board members present were Kenny Golden, vice president; Tina Warfel; Larry Hall; Ben Roland; Leslie Starasta; and Superintendent Jennifer Hamm.


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