Despite vocal objections from at least two of its members, the Community Unit School District 7 Board of Education on Monday night voted 4-2 to move forward with a $150,000 project to remove the “hairpin” drive in front of Gillespie Middle School and replace it with green space. The project also includes provisions to improve drainage in the area, which is known for becoming a sheet of ice during winter.
The board, however, deadlocked on approval of an alternate bid to repave the east half of Elm Street in front of the district’s administrative offices in conjunction with the main project.
Also on Monday, the board approved the district’s first golf program, set to start during the 2019-2020 school year, and quizzed chorus teacher Alexandrea Weinberg before approving a band and chorus trip to Walt Disney World in June 2020.
Supt. Joe Tieman told the board that DeLaurent Construction, Wilsonville, was the only firm to submit a bid for the hairpin turn-around project. DeLaurent offered a base bid of $150,000—$50,000 under the architect’s estimate—for the basic work. Additionally, the company provided an alternate bid of $26,000 for additional paving in conjunction with the project.
Tieman said the project could be comfortably financed using revenue from the county’s School Facilities Sales Tax collections.
Tieman said the project could be comfortably financed using revenue from the county’s School Facilities Sales Tax collections. After accounting for a $230,000 bond and interest payment for the new BenGil Elementary School debt and a $55,000 payment for the newly completed Middle School science lab, Tieman said the district is sitting on a $400,397 balance in the sale tax fund. Next year’s allocation of sales tax revenue to the district is projected at $350,000 to $400,000. School Facilities Sale Tax revenues are restricted to expenditures for permanent improvements or new construction.
“A year or a year and a half from now, we should be sitting on a million and a half in that account,” Tieman said.
The project, designed by school architect Tom Hyde, calls for removing the paved surface associated with the turn-around, backfilling the area with topsoil and seeding the area with grass. The project also will include the installation of concrete curbing and sidewalks, and installation of stormwater drains. All of the drainage will be underground and will direct water to ditches along Route 16 on the east side of the middle school/high school complex.
Tieman said he met with Gillespie Mayor John Hicks who pledged to work with the school district to get those ditches dug out and cleaned, and to replace crushed culverts under entrances to the Middle School and to the school’s parking lot. Additionally, Hicks reportedly told Tieman the city’s ongoing project to replace water lines throughout the city would not damage the completed project since lines in that area would be installed by boring under the pavement.
Tieman said he met with Gillespie Mayor John Hicks who pledged to work with the school district.
DeLaurent’s alternative bid of $26,000 refers to paving the east half of Elm Street and the south half of Oregon Street for the distance of the project. The base project calls for regrading the west half and north half of those streets, respectively, and repaving to restore the crown and improve drainage.
Tieman said Hicks could not say whether or not the city would participate financially in paving the sections of Elm and Oregon streets unaffected by the project since that would be a decision subject to approval by the City Council.
“The alternate bid does not have to be voted up or down tonight,” Tieman said, “which would give me an opportunity to continue working with the city.”
Tieman said dealing with the turn-around has been a topic of discussion for more than a decade. Apart from drainage issues and aesthetics, he said the area also is a safety hazard. During the winter months, the area often becomes a sheet of ice. Students, staff members and visitors picking their way across the ice occasionally fall, though there apparently have been no serious injuries.
“I’m afraid of a severe head injury or a broken ankle or broken arm,” he said. “I’m not saying we would be liable, but it would be difficult to be in a courtroom and have to defend that position when we’ve done nothing.”
Tieman said his goal would be to complete the project before the start of the 2019-2020 school year.
“My recommendation is unequivocally, 100 percent to go ahead with this project and get it done while we have the money,” Tieman told the board. “It will take care of not only an eyesore but also a safety hazard.”
“It will take care of not only an eyesore but also a safety hazard.”
While Tieman assured the board the money is available for the project, board members Weye Schmidt and Bill Carter objected to spending $150,000 to $176,000 in sales tax funds on a problem that might be resolved for less money.
Earlier in the meeting, former board member Dave Griffel addressed the board regarding a plan the Building and Grounds Committee toyed with during his tenure on the board. He said one reason the area holds water is because the grassy area to the west is about four inches higher than the pavement. Additionally, water that drains to the east is impeded by culverts that have been crushed by traffic. The board’s tentative plan several years ago was to use school personnel to grade the grassy area down to the same level as the pavement and reseed it, replace damaged culverts, and clean and improve ditches along Route 16 to carry the water away. The total cost, he said, would have been no more than a few hundred dollars.
The plan never progressed beyond the discussion stage, according to Griffel. There were no engineering studies done and no formal cost estimates. He said board members did talk to city officials who agreed to work with the district on replacing damaged culverts. The district also would have to work with the owners of a nearby Dairy Queen to resolve the culvert issue.
“Water does run that way, but it’s impeded,” Griffel noted. “Would you want to try something like this for a year and see if it works and if it doesn’t, then consider something else?”
“This is an awful lot of money,” said Weye Schmidt, board member. “I don’t think that when we went to voters to approve the school facilities tax that this is what they envisioned spending that money on. I think we need to get rid of the water, but I think we need to come up with a cheaper way of doing it.”
Tieman, however, countered that when he conducted public meetings on the tax referendum, addressing the turn-around was a specific project constituents mentioned.
“The money is there and this is the time to get it done and get it done properly,” Board President Mark Hayes said. He added that he didn’t think there were other viable options for the board to pursue.
“How do you know that?” Schmidt demanded. He said Hyde had not been asked to develop any alternative proposals other than the one presented to the board Monday night.
“It’s tough to take out that much money (from the sales tax account) for this,” board member Carter said, “not that it doesn’t need to be done.”
Brought to a vote, a motion to accept DeLaurent’s base bid was approved 4-2 with Schmidt and Carter voting no. Hayes, Becky Hatlee, Don Dobrino and Dennis Tiburzi voted “yes.” Jenni Alepra was absent.
A second motion to approve the alternate bid for additional paving failed to pass when the board tied 3-3.
Schmidt said he was not comfortable in committing to the alternate bid without knowing whether or not the city would support the project financially. He also questioned the practicality of paving one-half of the street if the city opts not to participate. Hatlee joined Schmidt and Carter in voting against the measure.
Tieman said he would continue talking with the city to determine whether or not Gillespie would help pay for the paving. DeLaurent’s bid is good for 60 days and the alternate bid could be reconsidered by the board at its next regular meeting.