Members of the Community Unit School District 7 Board of Education selected a contractor Monday night to replace the roof and build an addition for the high school vocational education building but delayed a decision on the size of the addition. The board also heard extensive reports about how the district will open the school year with remote learning protocols in less than a month.
Continuing to observe COVID-19 protocols, the board met in the Gillespie Middle and High School cafeteria where board members sit six feet apart and wear face coverings.
David Leggans of Graham-Hyde Architects, Springfield, told the board that bids for the vocational building project came in over budget and that his firm recommended accepting a low bid from R.W. Boeker Construction, Hamel, to replace the roof and build an addition. Before stepping down as district superintendent, former Supt. Joe Tieman had told the board the vocational building improvements could be financed with $400,000 in vocational education grant funds, coupled with a $50,000 state matching grant—essentially allowing the district to underwrite a $50,000 project with only $50,000 in local funds.
Boeker Construction’s base bid for a new roof and a 30-foot addition, however, came in at $529,300—about $30,000 in excess of the architect’s estimate. Leggans told the board his firm was unsure of what to expect from bidders seeking contracts during the COVID-19 pandemic and was surprised to obtain bids fluctuating nearly $200,000 between the low and high bids.
Extending the building by 48 feet would require the removal and relocation of an existing greenhouse on the north side of the building. Boeker’s bid to remove and replace the greenhouse, Leggans said, was about $260,000. “That’s half of your budget,” he noted.
Board President Mark Hayes said the existing greenhouse was built by volunteers and questioned why the contractor’s bid exceeded $200,000. Leggans responded that volunteers would not be bound by the same state-mandated standards as the contractor. The new greenhouse, he said, would be a commercial grade greenhouse with a concrete floor, a sprinkler system for fire suppression and a glass outer shell. “What you have now is basically a framework with a plastic covering,” Leggans said. “As a school district, you can do that” but a contractor would have to build a facility meeting minimal standards.
Armed with that information, Hayes proposed accepting the higher bid to add 48 feet to the building and opting to use school personnel and volunteers to relocate the existing greenhouse. Supt. Shane Owsley calculated that the district’s “out of pocket” costs (excluding grant funds) for the 30-foot addition would amount to about $83,000. For the 48-foot addition, he said, the school’s out of pocket expenditures would nearly double—$146,000.
“My gut is that the larger addition is the better buy,” Hayes said, adding that the larger project would be consistent with the district’s goals of putting greater emphasis on vocational education.
Board member Jenni Alepra asked about the funds available to the district for capital improvements. Owsley said he did not have an exact number without researching the issue.
Hayes pointed out that the larger addition is consistent with plans the district has for vocational education “down the road.”
“We have a lot of things down the road,” Alepra said. “I don’t want to make another $146,000 decision in three or four seconds.”
Without having numbers available, Hayes asked if the decision could be delayed to a later meeting. Leggans responded that some decision would be needed in order the meet the timelines the contract specifies for the contractor. Under terms of the bidding specification, the contractor would be expected to begin site work prior to the start of the school year and completing the project by late November. Supt. Owsley suggested the possibility of accepting Boeker as the contractor and delaying a decision on the size of the addition.
“Let’s start the process,” Owsley said, while the board reaches a decision on the scope of the project.
Given the time frame, Hayes moved to accept Boeker’s low bid, but before a vote could be taken, Alepra sought clarification. Owsley and Hayes said the motion was to accept the bid for the smaller addition while reserving the option to authorize a larger addition later in the construction process.
“If we decide to change that, we can?” Alepra asked.
“Yes,” said Leggans, adding that such a change would require a change order to the contract.
Brought to a vote, the board unanimously agreed to accept Boeker’s base bid and authorized the project to proceed.
PLANS EVOLVE FOR STARTING SCHOOL YEAR
By a unanimous vote, the board approved a resolution authorizing the superintendent to plan and implement reopening plans for CUSD 7 schools. Among other considerations, the resolution requires the superintendent to take into consideration the health and safety of students, staff and the community; educational and social/emotional needs of students; transportation issues; technology needs; social distancing requirements; health screenings; sanitation and disinfecting protocols; and provisions for personal protective equipment. The resolution further authorizes the superintendent to solicit and rely upon information from the State Board of Education, Illinois High School Association, Illinois Elementary School Association, CDC and other resources. In addition to authorizing the superintendent to make decisions about the delivery of educational services, the resolution also authorizes the superintendent to make and implement decisions about extra-curricular and co-curricular activities.
The authorities granted by the resolution expire at the end of summer school offerings in 2021 unless the board takes action to revoke the resolution prior to that time.
Last week during a special meeting of the board, Supt. Owsley announced that the 2020-21 school year will start as last year ended with remote learning. Depending upon the evolving pandemic, the district may move to in-classroom learning later in the year with specific protocols in place. In that event, students would attend school four days a week with one day set aside for cleaning and sanitizing school facilities. All students, staff and visitors would have their temperatures taken before entering the school. All persons would be required to wear face coverings and practice social distancing. Students would be subject to an abbreviated schedule with older students attending during the morning and younger students attending in the afternoon.
Reporting to the board Monday night, High School Principal Jill Rosentreter said building principals had been working together to make plans for the new school year. She said the Remote Learning Plan and In-Person Plan both have been subject to changes as new guidance becomes available from the State Board of Education and other agencies. Additionally, she said updates were made in conjunction with input from the teachers union, teachers and non-certified staff. Among the issues under discussion are daily schedules, instructional expectations, family communication, safety protocols and staff responsibilities.
Rosentreter said teachers have been learning to use Microsoft Teams which will be the remote learning platform for grades 4-12, and well as working with the Skyward, a school management software.
The new school year will open with “distribution” days on Monday and Tuesday, Aug. 17 and 18, during which students are expected to go to their respective schools to pick up laptop computers, textbooks, assignments and other materials for the start of the school year.
At the BenGil Elementary School, teachers will schedule times for students/parents to enter the building so the number of persons in the building can be closely monitored. All persons entering the building must wear a face covering and all persons must have their temperature taken to enter. Fourth and fifth-grade students will receive a laptop computer for remote learning, along with other materials. Each computer will be accompanied by an operator’s manual and a copy of the district’s policy regarding the use of district computers. Only one student/parent at a time will be allowed in their teacher’s classroom and will spend no more than 15 minutes in the classroom. Students are encouraged to bring their book bags to carry materials. Teachers will be provided with rubber gloves and hand sanitizer will be available throughout the building.
Seventh and eighth-grade students are set to come to the Gillespie Middle School to pick up materials on Aug. 17. Recommended arrival times for seventh-grade students with last names beginning with the letters A-H from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m.; seventh-graders with names starting with the letters I-P will arrive between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m.; and those with last names starting with the letters Q-Z will arrive between 10 a.m. and 11 a.m. Eighth graders also will arrive on Aug. 17, with the following recommended arrival times: last names starting with A-H from noon to 1 p.m.; I-P from 1-2 p.m.; and Q-Z, 2-3 p.m.
Distribution day for sixth-grade students will be on Aug. 18 with the following recommended arrival times; students with last names starting with the letters A-E from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m.; F-J, 9-10 a.m.; K-O, 10-11 a.m.; P-T, noon to 1 p.m., and U-Z, 1-2 p.m.
The number of students in the Middle School building will be limited to about 25 at any one time. Symptom checks, including temperature, will be taken at the door. Students will be encouraged to bring their book bags to carry materials. Face coverings will be required for all persons in the building. After the first meeting with their homeroom teacher, each student will move from room to room to receive materials from their other teachers, spending about three minutes at each station. Middle school students also will receive a laptop computer, along with an operator’s manual and a copy of the school policy on computer use. Teachers will be provided with rubber gloves and hand sanitizer will be available throughout the building.
High school freshmen will receive materials on Monday, Aug. 17, with the following recommended schedule: students with last names starting with the letters A-G from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m.; H-O, 9-10 a.m.; and P-Z, 10-11 a.m. Sophomores also will arrive on Aug. 17 with the following recommended schedule: A-G, noon to 1 p.m.; H-O, 1-2 p.m.; and P-Z, 2-3 p.m. Juniors and seniors with pick up materials on Aug. 18 with juniors expected on the following recommended schedule: A-G, 8-9 a.m.; H-O, 9-10 a.m.; and P-Z, 10-11 a.m. Seniors are expected to arrive on the following recommended schedule: A-G, noon to 1 p.m.; H-O, 1-2 p.m.; and P-Z, 2-3 p.m.
As with the Middle School, the number of students in the building will be limited to about 25 at any one time. Each person entering the building will undergo a symptom check, including temperature. Students will enter through the south breezeway door and exit through the south English hallway door. All persons in the building will be required to wear a face covering. Students will be given their laptop computer and enough instructional materials to last through the midterm. Students will spend three to four minutes in the classroom for each of their classes in order to meet teachers and receive materials. Teachers will be provided with rubber gloves and hand sanitizer will be available throughout the building.
Administrators told the board that plans for distributing materials could be adjusted on the basis of new recommended protocols from the Macoupin County Public Health Department.
Owsley said the district is trying to provide the “safest environment possible” for students, staff, and the public. He said he is in contact with the County Health Department every week. The re-opening plan is necessarily fluid, he said, because of new information becoming available.
“For example, as of Friday, the state provided new rules,” he said. “About the time we think we have things figured out, we get new recommendations.”
In two matters related to the re-opening plan, the board voted unanimously to add a $50 technology fee to the schedule of student fees to defray the cost of providing computers to students, and unanimously approved on seconded reading a new policy requiring all students, staff and visitors to wear face masks within school facilities.
Board member Don Dobrino asked if the computers will be given to students when they complete their senior year. Owsley said that is the intention, but he has to check rules regarding the distribution of the equipment since the district is using grant funds to buy the devices.
The face mask policy includes penalties for students who refuse to comply. A student not wearing a face mask can be sent home for the day upon the first offense. Upon the second offense, the suspension is increased to one week and the suspension is increased to the remainder of the school year upon the third offense.
Owsley reported to the board that he recently learned that the district will receive about $86,850 from the state’s COVID-19 School Relief Fund, a portion of which can be used to acquire an additional 29 laptop computers for student use. He also reported that the community has responded to the pandemic by donating goods and services to the district. Among the donations received are free face masks provided by one of the sports boosters groups and sanitation wipes donated by a local insurance agent. Verticchio Law Office, one of the attorneys representing the district, has offered to write living wills and power-of-attorney documents for teachers returning to the classroom amid the pandemic. “We’ve got lots of support from the community,” Owsley said.
EAGLE SCOUT PROJECT
The board took under advisement a request from Troy Boy Scout member Justin Spencer to have access to a parcel of property next to the district’s storage shed on the north side of Illinois Route 16 for an Eagle Scout Project. Spencer said he needs a small area to erect a 12-by-seven-foot welcome sign reading “Welcome to Gillespie-Home of the Miners.” Owsley said he would consult with Building Manager Rob Graham and get back to Spencer with a decision.
In other action, the board voted to hire Michael Smith as a full-time, full-route bus driver and to post a vacancy for a high school softball coaching position.