How to pay for long-overdue repairs and upgrades at Proviso Township high schools? 

The Proviso Township High School District 209 school board couldn’t quite commit to issue $30 million in bonds over three years for life-safety repairs at its Nov. 18 meeting. 

The proposed bond money would be used to make repairs on to-do lists from as far back as 1988, as well as pay for upgrades to all district schools’ electrical systems and the installation of energy-efficient lighting.

“We are looking at what are the most critical things in each building to improve the safety, security and educational environment of the schools,” said Chief Financial Officer Todd Drafall. 

But the board kicked the discussion a month forward to the December meeting. Drafall cautioned that they needed to make a decision as soon as possible to get the best prices from contractors and set the borrowing process in motion.

Proviso schools have racked up years of deferred maintenance and repairs, leading parents and community members to question whether the district is providing the same educational environment from school to school. 

 “I wonder how Proviso East students would do if they went to school here [Proviso Math and Science Academy],” said Proviso East alumnus Rev. Robert Jones at a recent D209 board meeting.

The administration prioritized a three-year to-do list of $10 million per year starting next summer. 

Working cash general obligation bonds would be issued without going to referendum, and with no property tax impact the first two years, Drafall told the board. The third year, refinancing all the district’s debt in a bond that expired in 2036 would increase taxes for Proviso taxpayers by around $11.40 per year on a $150,000 home. 

Representatives from Mesirow Financial explained the district’s debt service fund has a surplus of $3 million. A portion of the debt service fund levy can be abated to match the borrowing costs of bonds for the first two years, meaning there will be no property tax impact, the advisors said. The district could consolidate loans with outstanding debt from 2004 and 2008 bonds in 2017.

Drafall said the board needs to make decisions now to lock in the best rates and availability for contractors this summer. A representative from Mesirow confirmed that interest rates were below five percent.

The administration ran the plan past the state mandated Financial Oversight Panel Nov. 25. 

Chair Craig Schilling recommended preparing the bond issue paperwork for all $30 million at once to save on transaction costs, but only spending $10 million per year. 

Planned for this summer: Proviso East

Proviso East, built in 1911, has the longest list of repair needs. Regular maintenance has been deferred and repairs have been made on an emergency basis. 

Drafall said the electrical wiring in all three high schools lacks the power capacity to accommodate computer technology. With the state mandating computerized PARCC exams next year, all students will take the test on computers, which current wiring cannot handle. 

“We don’t have the electricity needed to plug in all those computers,” he said.

At the top of next summer’s priority list at Proviso East is an assessment of the electrical systems. The school experienced an electrical fire last May that damaged 10 classrooms and cost more than $5 million in clean-up and repairs. A “case study” of the school’s electrical system will cost $40,000. The school basement has also flooded numerous times in the past few years of extreme flooding in the area. A $30,000 campus flood survey is listed as a priority to be completed this summer. 

Portions of the brick building have been in need of tuck-pointing since 1988. At this point, the estimated tuck-pointing cost in 2014 is $250,000. The district also identified roofing repairs estimated at $400,000 and the installation of a $100,000 grease trap. There are also $565,000 in violations and repairs reported in 1988, 2008 and 2010. These include fire detectors, plumbing, wall, flooring and door repairs and window replacements.

 Proviso West

Proviso West’s to-do list includes electrical work budgeted at $1.2 million. A list of $4.6 million in recommended violation repairs from 1988 and 2010 includes remodeling bathrooms, replacing deteriorated masonry, patching holes, and replacing and repairing doors and worn carpeting/tile and replacing plate glass windows with tempered glass. 

The budget calls for an overhaul of the Proviso West track for $400,000 and the installation of security cameras for $400,000. 

PMSA

The budget calls for replacing a chiller on the Math and Science Academy air conditioning system for $600,000 and installing variable frequency drive (VFD) energy saving switches on building fans for $600,000. 

A district-wide information technology upgrade is budgeted at $750,000 for this summer. This will put electronic whiteboards in classrooms and upgrade computers throughout the district.

Drafall is also pushing the district to swap out lights for energy-efficient bulbs and switches this summer — estimated at $750K. 

Jean Lotus

Jean Lotus loves community journalism. She covers news, features, two school boards, village council, crime, park district and writes obits for Forest Park Review. She also covers the police beat for...

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