Despite questions surrounding the quality of the food service provided for the Proviso Township High Schools, the school board voted 4-3 to renew the district’s food service contract with Aramark Educational Services LLC at the District 209 Board of Education meeting on June 14.

The district entered into a contract with Aramark on July 1, 2015 as a one-year agreement with the option to renew for an additional four years, with this year’s renewal being the first. With the board’s vote to renew, there will be a fee increase from Aramark of 0.7 percent. The approval for the additional year of service has a cost not to exceed $1.5 million.

Prior to the board’s narrow approval of Aramark’s renewal, board member Claudia Medina expressed her concern that the board should exercise caution when approving a food service that she has heard students are not fond of.

“I can’t sit here and approve some food service that the kids find disgusting and they’re hungry at the end of the day,” Medina said.

Proviso Chief Financial Officer Todd Drafall responded that the school is aware of dissatisfaction among students and staff and will respond to the vendor accordingly.

“We sent a very clear message that they need to step up their game,” Drafall said. “If, by November, we don’t see any improvement, we give them notice and start the [vendor search] process.”

Medina disagreed and expressed concern that continuing subpar service would be a waste of money. She urged the board to postpone the approval and research other companies as neighboring districts have done in recent years.

“I don’t understand why our district can’t do it when other districts can,” she argued. “Other districts in Illinois do it and turn it around in a month.”

Board President Teresa McKelvy said that for now, the district cannot go without having a food service provider and would give Aramark proper notice should quality suffer.

“We’re not disagreeing with you, but what we’re saying is we will approve this for now because we need this to happen right now and then we will go out for bid,” said McKelvy, noting that in the fall, the board would revisit the contract and student and staff reviews on the food and, if needed, would move forward with a request for proposals process.


Asbestos abatement

At the meeting, board members were also asked to approve asbestos abatement bids for Proviso East and West.

According to the D209 Buildings and Grounds Department, the district is planning on having 20,000 additional square feet of asbestos removed at both campuses at a cost of approximately $10 per square foot.

Several board members had questions regarding the approval, with many wondering when asbestos abatement in the district would come to an end.

“Are there any pictures for East and West to show how much you’ve done, what area you’ve done this in and also what’s left to do so that we can finish this? This has been costing us a lot of money,” board member Theresa Kelly asked.

Building manager Ronald Anderson said the department will produce documents for the board depicting the exact areas where asbestos has been removed and what areas still have a heavy concentration needing removal for safety purposes.

“We try to do as much at one time because of high costs,” Anderson said.

He added that the district has followed county regulations every time abatement occurs and having air quality professionals check out the campuses before staff and students are admitted back to the buildings.

Anderson also said that when a small fire occurred a few years back at Proviso East, some unexpected abatement costs occurred during that time.

Board member Kevin McDermott agreed with board members that abatement seems to be never-ending.

“As I recall during the fire, every time we opened up a wall or ceiling there was stuff we didn’t expect, like windows [with asbestos],” he said. “Realistically, is there an end or do we keep discovering this stuff because at the time these schools were built this was the miracle material?”

Given the age of the buildings, Anderson said, there might never be an end at Proviso East of totally abating all asbestos and that it may be a continuing operational cost.

The board carried the motion to accept the superintendent’s recommendation to approve the lowest asbestos abatement bid from Husar Abatement in Franklin Park at a cost not to exceed $175,908.