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Acknowledging that its current Madison Street administration headquarters is "a crappy building," District 97 school board member Peter Traczyk urged caution by the board as it explores options for a new or refurbished central office building in Oak Park.
At a school board meeting Tuesday night, the board was presented with financial options for capital improvement projects slated through 2018. Among those items was discussion of spending up to $4 million for either a new or fully refurbished administration building. The current facility is a former auto dealer related building that the district updated in the 1970s.
Other board members asked the district's Facilities Advisory Committee to consider various district needs and dreams when envisioning a new administration building. Mentioned specifically were the incorporation of a pre-school/early childhood center and a possible Therapeutic Day School for special education students who are currently bused to other school districts – possibly shared with other districts and charging tuition. "Think big," said Peter Barber, the board president.
If District 97 remains on Madison Street, its plans might need to incorporate retail on the first floor in order to comply with the village's development plans for the commercial street.
"I have a problem with us [being perceived as] going on a spending spree [after the referendum]," said Traczyk. Board member Denise Sachs urged care with authorizing borrowing for a new building. "It's a perception issue. Most people know that borrowing is for capital projects. They would be glad that we're using [borrowed money] for capital projects instead of operating costs, like we were" before the referendum.
With interest rates at historically low rates -- as low as 2 percent – borrowing for capital projects is tempting, said Traczyk. "That's cheap money."
Board members agreed that $4 million was a maximum amount that could be spent on such a project. The Facilities Advisory Committee has not yet presented any concrete plan with regards to the administration building.
More broadly, the board looked at financial issues as they related to selling bonds for capital projects for the 2012-13 school year and beyond. Therese O'Neill, assistant superintendent for finance and operations said bidding, acceptance and contracting needed to get started in October if new projects were to be on the ground next summer.
Financial adviser Elizabeth Hennessey gave a presentation showing a Debt Service Extension Base projection of the district's borrowing plan. The presentation grouped together the district's capital project wishlists, including $1.8 million for next year's capital improvements, and a series of items encompassed in the referendum campaign including added technology in classrooms, greening of outdoor spaces at the middle schools and paying licenses on laptops and AV equipment.
The board took no final action during Tuesday's meeting on the debt service issue.