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On March 11, District 65’s Finance Committee recommended that the Board approve the issuance of $15 million in bonds, $12 million which would be used for building projects this summer and technology and $3 million to refinance existing bonds at a lower interest rate. In the course of its discussion, Board members touched on a wide range of topics, including the proposed building projects for next summer, technology costs for the next three years, estimates of future building costs, providing safe entrances to the remaining school buildings, and air conditioning in the school buildings.

It appears that the District lacks the ability to fund all recommended and desired projects, absent a referendum. Administrators and members of the Board are thus attempting to prioritize the District’s capital needs.

Proposed Use of the $12 Million

The lion’s share of the work for this summer has already been approved by the Board. The Board approved bids to expand cafeteria space at Haven and Nichols Middle Schools, to add four classrooms at Haven and six at Nichols, to add a three-story stairway at Nichols, and to provide secure entryways and remodel administrative space. This, together with related work at the schools, totals $8.3 million.

On March 11, the Finance Committee recommended that the Board accept bids for roofing work at Dewey and Dawes, and to accept bids for asbestos abatement at Haven, Chute and Bessie Rhodes. The total estimated cost of these projects is $1.8 million.

Mary Brown, chief financial officer, itemized and described other projects totaling $960,000, the vast bulk of which she said were in the “urgent” category. Several Board members said they wanted to examine those projects in relation to other projects and to prioritize them.

Dr. Brown also included $1.5 million for technology. Several Board members indicated they would like to discuss this in more detail.

Finally, the cost to issue the issue the bonds is $270,000. That together with the cost of all proposed projects is $12.9 million. About $1 million would be paid for with cash on hand, leaving a balance of $11.9 million.

Other Capital Needs

Assuming the District issues $15 million in bonds, it would be able to issue a maximum of an additional $10.05 million in bonds under its Debt Service Extension Base, said Dr. Brown. The District’s bond financial advisors estimate the bonding capacity will increase about $2.5 million in each future levy year.

Spreadsheets presented to the Finance Committee itemize building projects in the next five years, none of which fall into an “urgent” category. The projects that fall into a “recommended” category, though, total $12.3 million. On top of that, estimates for the cost of technology for the next three years total $4.9 million. The estimated cost of “desired” projects substantially exceeds these amounts.

In addition to these amounts, the Finance Committee authorized TMP Architecture to develop architectural concept plans and cost estimates to provide secure entrances at seven District schools and to link the buildings at Dawes. TMP will provide the drawings and cost estimates to the Finance Committee in April.

TMP provided a rough estimate to provide central air conditioning to the District’s schools that currently lack it. The estimate, $22.5 million, appeared out of sight to members of the Board. Part of the proposed work for this summer includes providing air conditioning units to the remaining elementary school classrooms at a cost of $120,000. The Finance Committee asked TMP to estimate the cost to provide air conditioning to selected common areas of the buildings through air conditioning units that could be placed on the roofs.

The Board is scheduled to vote on issuing $15 million in bonds later this month.

Safety in the Schools

District 65 is taking steps to increase safety in the schools. The proposed work for this summer includes installing security cameras, updated systems and buzzers at a cost of $220,000. With the installation of these cameras, the front entrances of each building could be monitored not only at the school, but also at a central location by District personnel.

The District also retained TMP Architecture to prepare concept drawings and estimates to provide secure entrances at seven District 65 schools, and to provide a link between the two buildings at Dawes. John Castellana, a principal of TMP, made a presentation to the Finance Committee on March 11 in which he outlined ways in which other school districts are tightening security at their buildings.

Superintendent Hardy Murphy said he has been discussing increased security with experts in the field. He said he would arrange a presentation to the full Board in the next few months.

Larry Gavin

Larry Gavin was a co-founder of the Evanston RoundTable in 1998 and assisted in its conversion to a non-profit in 2021. He has received many journalism awards for his articles on education, housing and...