District 308 board still undecided

Jennifer Freeman

BLDD Architects and Gilbane Building Co. presented seven different design options for renovations and possible new construction at Washington Community High School to District 308 School Board members Oct. 20.

After voters strongly rejected an $18.4-million referendum in April, school board members are trying to put together a less expensive plan for the badly needed renovations.

The seven design options presented Tuesday ranged in cost from about $6  million to just over $9 million.

Each option represented a different compromise between academic needs and kitchen and commons facility updates.   

Board members discussed each option, highlighting their priorities.

Brian Wisher stressed the importance of renovating all nine science labs, noting that they are usually “the first to become outdated.”

Director of student services, Mike Sluder, pointed out that all the science classes are laboratory classes, including the lower-level classes.

“We know students learn best when they are applying the sciences, not just pushing pencils,” Susan Knoblauch said.

Other board members were critical of the design options that did not include renovation of the commons or the kitchen.

“I struggle with not doing the kitchen when we know it will have to be done down the road,” Gloria McNett said.

Gilbane Building Co. estimated the cost of the kitchen and commons basic renovations to be about $1.6 million.

Board members were also considering student capacity.

A representative from BLDD Architects explained that the Illinois State Board of Education would not include the expanded commons area in their equation to determine capacity because it would not have a “stated program purpose.”

With a fourth lunch period occupying the commons area, students are now bused to Five Points banquet hall to take standardized tests.

McNett said the board members were “shell-shocked” after the two-to-one defeat of the last referendum and, since then, they have “pulled back and gone cheap.”

“You are not going to get my vote with cheap because of what it does to this district and our reputation,” McNett said.

“I have gone to other schools in other districts and I see what they have.”

Board president Jim Gerkin said the board needs to be unified and to better communicate their support for the plan to the community.

“No one is willing to vote ‘no’ for education, but they are willing to vote ‘no’ for indecision,” Gerkin said.

The board decided to consider each plan and to reconvene last night.

Refer to www.washingtontimesreporter.com to see the results of last night’s meeting. A more in-depth story will follow next week.