By Jean Lotus
Proviso East High School needs $22 million worth of repairs," said the Todd Drafall, the new finance director for Proviso Township High School District 209, on Friday. "And I'm sure I could find more work that needs to be done if I looked for it."
The subject of repairs to the district's ailing buildings has come up repeatedly in D209 school board meetings over the past year. Proviso East needs the most work, according to the district. One part of the building is 102 years old and repairs have been made on an emergency basis.
Most critical for repairs at PEHS is the ceiling of the field house, which needs $441,600 worth of work, according to the district.
Bringing experience from his former job with the West Aurora School District, Drafall has suggested a new type of bond to help address these repairs.
In July the district applied to the Illinois State Board of Education for $1.4 million in Qualified Zone Academy Bonds (QZAB), which were just approved.
"These bonds are not well known, but they have been used by the Chicago school district for several years," Drafall said.
QZAB bonds were approved by Congress in 1997 as a way to raise money for school districts with high concentrations of low-income students. At D209, 73 percent of students are eligible for free-or-reduced lunch.
QZAB bonds represent an interest-free loan created by selling bonds paid back over 12-16 years. Instead of interest, the federal government issues a tax credit to the buyers of the bonds (usually banks or other big institutions) in an amount approximately equal to the market rate.
To apply for the bonds, Drafall and the district had to drum up 10 percent of the amount they wanted to borrow in the form of donations from private businesses. These can be in the form of cash gifts or in-kind donations.
The district found three donors to pony up in-kind donations. They are also vendors with the district: Legat Architects, Ehlers Financial Advisers and an educational consultant named Barbara Parker. The total pledged donations add up to $141,185.
Oak Brook's Legat Architects, a company specializing in architectural services for school districts, has been D209's go-to architect for several years. They compiled the original life safety repairs list used by the district in 2008 and have updated it every two years. They also supervised roof repairs on both Proviso East and West in the past year. In 2012, the district paid Legat $173,453.01, according to www.Openthebooks.com, a government watchdog website.
According to D209's application to the ISBE, Legat will donate an in-kind total of $119,299 to support the school. This contribution includes a discount of $53,179 on a bill for master plan services in October, a donation of principal time for master plan services of $19,300 and three summer internship/job shadow opportunities in 2014-2016, valued at $15,440 each.
Financial advisers Ehlers Inc., of Lisle, will donate 50 hours of professional service time, provided by advisers Steve H. Larson and Bradford J. Townsend, totaling $10,000.
Parker, a Aulander, N.C.-based education consultant, donated the cost of a $5,943 leadership retreat, including 30 hours of prep time at $75 an hour.
Other than the field house ceiling, Drafall said he chose $1,033,609 worth of projects on the life-safety repair list.
"I picked the projects that had been on the list longest," he said. The punch list of projects includes replacing dozens of door assemblies, correcting deteriorating walls, providing fire detectors, re-securing and replacing tiles, removing and replacing carpeting, masonry, replacing glass panels with tempered glass and other renovations.
Although these repairs will be a drop in the bucket from the total list of $22 million life-safety projects, it's a start, Drafall said.
He also plans to apply for a district-wide lighting upgrade grant from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO), which should significantly reduce electricity use.
"We can use the resources from that savings to put into more life-safety repairs," Drafall said.
Tip hotlines rediscovered
After a community safety forum on July 16, D209 Superintendent Nettie Collins-Hart said she would look into a tip hotline for community members to alert the district about planned fights and other threats to student safety.
What she found out was that the district already had such hotlines set up at Proviso East and West high schools and listed in the student handbooks. The district created a new number for Proviso Math and Science Academy.
The tip hotlines are: Proviso East, 708-202-1731; Proviso West, 708-202-6351; and PMSA, 708-338-4188. These numbers will be publicized in all student handbooks, weekly newsletters and posters in the school. The district said the hotline would be checked three times a day for messages.
Committee mulls school uniforms
Are school uniforms in the future of D 209 students? Collins-Hart told the school board Aug. 20 that a committee was meeting to discuss whether school uniforms should be instituted in D209. Barbara Cole, who runs Maywood Youth Mentoring, suggested uniforms at the community safety forum in July.
Cube to broadcast sports
Starting Aug. 31 at the home opener against Nazareth Academy, Proviso East and West football games will be broadcast on High School Cube, an Internet-streaming sports channel.
The company has been broadcasting the Proviso West Holiday Basketball Tournament since 2010. At no cost to the district, the company will also help students learn broadcasting technology, so students can produce volleyball and soccer games, as well as freshman and sophomore football games, according to a memo presented to the board Aug. 20. The district could also produce 15- to 60-second spots promoting the schools, the memo said. Calvin Davis, Proviso West's assistant principal for athletics is trying to get a live "Game of the Week" show at WCIU-TV. He organized a similar agreement when he taught in Chicago Public Schools.
Gatorade pact questioned
A tentative agreement with Gatorade has been crafted to put vending machines in Proviso West High School, with the option to place the machines in Proviso East as well. The agreement was spearheaded by Davis at Proviso West.
But school board member Kevin McDermott said the machines would send a mixed message to students about healthy nutrition.
"There are 34 grams of sugar in a bottle of Gatorade," McDermott said. "Sugar is known to cause diabetes. We want to provide the best nutritional choices for our students."
The district is also looking into selling signage in the gymnasiums and stadiums, especially if games are being broadcast. Nike and Home Team Marketing are being approached about sponsorship opportunities, according to a D209 memo.
AP courses now offered at PMSA
Proviso Math and Science Academy is offering Advanced Placement courses this year, the D209 school board was told Aug. 20. Classes being offered are AP English Language and Composition, AP Calculus and AP Biology. The district received a start-up grant last year of $49,374 from the College Board, which administers the AP exams.