Save Our School Group disputes architect report

SAVANNA—The Save Our School group presented alternatives to the potential closing of the Savanna High School at the West Carroll Board’s Feb. 26 meeting.

Tony McCombie, who led off the presentation by stating she was there was a citizen of Savanna and not acting in her official capacity as Representative of the district, gave a slide show presentation comparing that group’s ideas for renovating the school. The slide show often clashed with figures given by the district’s architect in the Facilities and Building Capacities Report presented several months ago.

While there were some areas of agreement in terms of costs, including the cost to remove and/or replace the remaining windows with caulk (estimate of $524,429) and cleaning up the mechanical room (estimate of $40,000), there were also some striking differences, including:

• SOS’ estimate of lighting costs at $25,000 vs. the enrollment and facilities Study’s $1,110,000. The group noted that the current lighting at the school was judged “adequate” by the enrollment and facilities Study and that the recommended LED lighting is not required.

•áSOS’ estimate of $150,000 to repair the roof, vs. the enrollment and facilities Study Estimate of $886,875. The group recommended replacing the 1997 portion of the roof and performing annual maintenance on the remaining roof portions for five or more years.

McCombie said that it is not true that “No level of asbestos is a safe level”, but that “no exposed asbestos is a safe level” according to the Illinois EPA.

•áSOS’ estimate of $22,000 to paint the school, in contrast to the enrollment and facilities study’s estimate of $148,000. SOS suggests hiring the teachers and whatever summer help might be needed to paint the needed areas (gym not included).

•áSOS’s estimate of upgrading the science lab of $1,500 vs. the enrollment and facilities study’s estimate of $1,037,073. The group said only one upgrade was necessary for the existing labs; the installation of a utility sink.

• SOS’ estimate of $21,500 to repair the site drainage, sidewalks and the asphalt parking lot (they recommended not upgrading the tennis court) vs. the enrollment and facilities study’s estimate of $391,838. They noted that the City of Savanna could provide the concrete to repair the sidewalks with the district providing the labor.

The report also dealt with what McCombie called the thing “that nobody wants to talk about”, the potential of closing the administrative building in Mt. Carroll (the district office).

Doing this, the report said, would add an estimated $13,000 to the district, save $7,500 in utility expenses, plus an estimated $5,000 in insurance, maintenance and other costs.

Overall, SOS projected $1,253,365 to renovate the building, vs. the enrollment and facilities study’s estimate of $7,426,477.

McCombie emphasized the advantages of the high school building, including its central location, quality of construction, room for growth, ability to segregate middle and high school students, superior parking, superior fire protection, superior tornado/storm protection, a remodeled weight room, a fully furnished home economics room,quality science labs, a fully equipped shop room, larger more sound proof rooms, a special needs room, a larger, better gym, classrooms with exterior egress and a mostly air conditioned facility.

The report also indicated there would be costs at the Primary and Middle School to deal with the displacement of 302 students, 13 teachers and 14 support staff, and the ability to add students, programs, and curriculum.

Summing up the report, McCombie said that renovations are not needed this year or even in the next few years.

She also reviewed ways in which the needed renovations could be paid without raising taxes, including selling the district office, applying for a School Energy Efficiency Project Grant, reducing the Cash on Hand to 180 from 190.75 (equals $308,309), continuing to apply for a School Maintenance Project Grant, requesting TIF surplus for the sidewalk, parking lots repairs, and refinancing the bond debt from 4.0 to 35. or lower.

McCombie said District Superintendent Julie Katzenberger had done a “great job” in helping with multiple FOIA requests for the group.

The Save Our School group will be making further presentations in March and possibly April.

The West Carroll Education Foundation also gave a brief statement at the beginning of the meeting, noting that group does not support the closure of the high school.

While acknowledging that consolidation and declining enrollment are trends in the area, they felt that due diligence had not yet been done in regard to exploring other options.

They noted that many sacrifices had been made by the staff throughout the years, including a salary freeze and taking on more duties in the wake of a much reduced staff.

Public Comments

Sharon Larsen of Mt. Carroll spoke, asking the crowd to understand the difficult job the school board has to do and that they are “behind the eight ball” in terms of finances for the district.

She urged everyone to put themselves in the position of the school board when considering the task ahead.

Gary Foltz of Mt. Carroll said everyone needed to “remove emotion” from the decision and think about what is best for the school district and taxpayers.

Mt. Carroll Mayor Carl Bates said “we need conversations that benefit the community” and decried the “picking sides’ mentality that he saw on social media.

He said everyone needed to think about what was best for the students, not the individual communities. “If we can’t draw people here for education, we’re in trouble,” he said.

Kristine Sullivan of Savanna said the board needed to do due diligence and research into all options before making such a move.

Greg Stott, of Savanna, asked if the board had ever spoke to the high school students about what they wanted, adding he felt they were happy with the way things were now.

Superintendent Presentation

The board also heard a presentation from District Superintendent Julie Katzenberger on enrollment trends and building capacity analysis.

Some of the highlights of the presentation were:

• Carroll County had an enrollment of 2,946 in 2003-2004 and 2,221 in 2018-2019.

• Student enrollment data prior to consolidation was Savanna 861, Mt. Carroll 548, and Thomson 330 in 1997-1998. In 2004-2005, it was Savanna 747, Mt. Carroll 545, and Thomson 272. Since consolidation, attendance has gone from 1,541 (pre K to 12 housed) and 1,449 to 932 (K-12)

• If the current enrollment trend of a 3 percent loss per year continues, the projections for 2024 to 2025 is 866 (housed Pre K to 12) and 800 (K-12)

•áSavanna currently has a capacity of 700 students in the primary school, currently housing 484 with a proposed 545 for the coming school year ((current enrollment plus 75 for PreK) .

The middle school has a capacity of 525 and is currently housing 239, with a projected 453 (grades 7 to 12) in the coming school year. The high school has a capacity of 550 students and are currently housing 290.

Total Capacity Available with all three buildings is 1, 775 students. Total capacity available with two buildings (one in each town) is 1,225 students.

The three buildings are currently housing 56.8 percent of capacity; if the district went to two, those would be housing 82.3 percent of capacity.

Other Business

The board also approved an overnight trip for the wrestling co-op on March 6 to 7 for the IESA State Wrestling Tournament; hired Ideal Environmental Engineering as contractor to perform window maintenance work at the high school; and approved a request to let for bid a proposal for K-6 English Language Arts curriculum.