Friday, April 29, 2016

Sprint to the Finish

The title of this post is a shameless plug for all the runners and walkers and organizers and volunteers in our community who will be taking part in the 8th Annual Christie Clinic Illinois Marathon this weekend. If you're running the 10K on Saturday, look for me; my kids and I will be handing out water -- along with other Dr. Howard families and staff -- at "our" hydration station outside the school. For non-participants, here are the maps showing how you can stay out of the way tonight and tomorrow.

We are also rapidly approaching the end of the 2016-2017 school year, now a mere month away. It will end sooner for promoting 8th-graders and graduating seniors, later for elementary schools on the Balanced Calendar, but everyone is more or less in the homestretch. If you are a parent or a Unit 4 employee, you are fully aware of all the resulting extra events in your schedule. If you have multiple kids, are involved in spring sports, or do seasonal outdoor work... just hang in there.

For School Board members, this time of year also brings a host of Unit 4 events that we are invited to attend. To be completely honest, more than one of my board colleagues has confessed to having anxiety dreams at this time of year that we accidentally forget to attend something important... like, you know, graduation.

Consider this the second post on Board Corner to address the question, "So, what does a Board member do anyway?" (You can find the first post here, describing a typical week in October.) This list is different -- these are celebrations, we need to dress better, and mostly we just bask in the accomplishments of others. It's a great time of year.

You may catch a glimpse of one or more of us at any of the following:
  • Tap In Leadership Academy's Community Luncheon
  • Young Achiever's Awards Ceremony
  • AVID Senior Night
  • Retiring Staff Dinner
  • Central Honors Ceremony
  • Young Entrepreneurship Program Expo
  • Centennial Honors Ceremony
  • 8th Grade Promotion Ceremonies -- at Edison, Jefferson, and Franklin
  • Novak Senior Celebration
  • Central Graduation
  • Centennial Graduation
Happy spring and safe running!

Monday, April 25, 2016

A Question of Space

Last week's meeting of the Tier Two committee (4/21/16) focused on Dr. Howard Elementary and the International Prep Academy (IPA), with preliminary numbers provided by our architect/construction management team for several replacement/renovation/addition scenarios. See Nicole Lafond's meeting summary in the News-Gazette here, and see the presentation materials here.

The meeting contained several valuable lessons for subsequent conversations: What do these dollar ranges mean? What are the differences between planning issues and design issues? When should parent/neighborhood/staff/community input be considered again? The meeting also inspired me to make up a new acronym -- AIL -- which I hope will help us make better sense of our priorities.

First, a note about the dollar ranges. Tom Fitch of O'Shea Builders provided an outline of what is contained in these budget numbers, in terms of direct and indirect costs (calculated using 2017 dollars). These figures incorporate everything from hazardous materials abatement to landscaping to legal fees (listed in more detail here). In response to questioning by the committee, he explained that their budgets also contain "multiple targeted contingencies," which just became one of my new favorite vocabulary terms; in other words, their budgets contain calculated wiggle room in particular areas that can be presented in more detail when requested. Then the ranges in the total costs -- for example, Dr. Howard Option A lists a preliminary cost range of $16.4 - $18.0 million -- are there to account for design choices made later in the process.

Providing estimated project totals in ranges (rather than in single figures) is important, because it serves to highlight the key difference that facilitator Steve Carter pointed out at the meeting. Any project involves planning issues and design issues, and the Tier Two committee has been charged only with the first of those.

Here's a specific example of planning vs. design. For both the Dr. Howard and the IPA scenarios, the committee is examining two options. The trade-off involved is similar: build a taller building with a more compact footprint? or build fewer stories with a larger footprint?

Dr. Howard Option A: 3-story school, 2 playgrounds

Dr. Howard Option B: 2-story school, 1 playground

The budget estimates for the two options above are significantly overlapping, such that in terms of planning, the options are basically identical. In terms of design, however, they are quite different. Gathering input from neighbors, families, and staff will be crucial during the design stage in determining which scenario is a better fit for the purpose of education at Dr. Howard.

In a data-driven process complimented by audience member Neil Strack, the Tier Two committee decided to eliminate the third option presented for Dr. Howard. Option C, pictured below, attempted to save the original 1910 Dr. Howard building plus the 1923 edition and incorporate them into a new design.

Dr. Howard Option C: 3-story addition to original building (blue)
The committee took into account the pros and cons of this option (pros: save historical building; cons: historical building cannot be gutted due to presence of load-bearing walls, 6-stop double-door elevator required for access, $1 million extra cost, gym not convenient for after-hours use, loss of a playground, etc.) and decided the trade-offs were not acceptable.

While this decision is still, of course, open to discussion, it is an excellent example of a planning decision made by a representative committee with the help of professionals.

Here are the two options currently being explored for IPA:

IPA Option A: 1-story addition

IPA Option B: 2-story addition
Note that each option's budget contains funds to renovate the existing building, which the architects indicated will require probably the lowest range of renovation costs of all the Unit 4 buildings in this process. Again, the budget estimates for the two IPA options overlap enough such that a choice between the two will likely come during the design process.

Remember how Mark Jolicoeur of Perkins + Will introduced us to the idea of "conceptual test fits"? Like the options pictured above, these are preliminary designs that require adding and subtracting and rearranging school components like giant puzzle pieces fitting each site, based on the priorities for capacity and programming provided by the Tier One process. Take a closer look at what parts of a school tend to be labeled on these conceptual test fit slides: on the IPA slides above, for example, we see parent drop-off, playground, library, gym, and cafeteria. Are we to conclude, then, that according to the evidence provided in early planning stages that this project is driven not by academic need but by need for "extras" like space to eat, play, and drive?

We know full well that the IPA project has a primarily academic motivation: expanding to a K-8 school to satisfy community demand for dual language programming. However, the additional labeled components are for spaces that fail what I call the AIL test -- is it a space that can be Added In Later? Certain school spaces, such as gymnasiums and driveways, simply cannot be added in later during a design phase, but must be planned for in the initial stages even though they are not the driving forces behind the project. In other words, their inclusion in the planning phase has no relationship to their overall importance.

Please keep my AIL test in mind when we revisit our high school design proposals. Administrators have outlined in specific detail the programming and capacity needs that are driving the need to finance improvements to our high schools. Items such as parking and theaters and athletic fields are part of the planning process now because they fail the AIL test: they simply cannot be Added In Later. If a design element can pass the AIL test, it probably should not be part of the Tier Two process.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Summary of Tier Two 4/14/16

Welcome to Board Corner, and thanks for reading.

4/21/16 Tier Two Facilities Meeting 6:00pm (Mellon Building, 703 S. New St.)

Please note the earlier start time -- 6:00pm -- for this and future Tier Two meetings. As always, the agenda will be posted here and public comment will be solicited from the audience both at the start and end of the meeting; video of the meeting will be available here.

On 4/21/16 we look forward to hearing some preliminary numbers for the work previously discussed at two elementary schools: Dr. Howard and IPA.

4/14/16 Tier Two Facilities Meeting

This meeting focused primarily on options for Central High School. See Nicole Lafond's summary in the News-Gazette here, and view the complete presentation here. This blog post will highlight 3 options for Central and 3 topics discussed at the meeting.

First, three general scenarios for Central:

A) a renovated Central (with new addition), with adjacent properties demolished for fields and parking--
Central Option A

B) a new Central north of Church St., with the old Central building and adjacent properties demolished for fields and parking--
Central Option B

C) a new Central on Interstate Dr., plus new fields (shown here on 80 acres)--
Central Option C

Since neither Option A nor Option B includes all of Central's athletic facilities onsite, the architect/construction manager team also unveiled a proposal that incorporates property at Franklin, South Side, and Spalding Park (in cooperation with the Park District) to reduce the number of sites used by Central athletes from 20+ down to 3.

See the overall Central athletic site proposal here (with the 80-acre site at Interstate Drive superimposed to show how these in-town distances compare)--
Central HS and Offsite Fields

The following 4 slides show close-up views of Franklin, Spalding, and South Side respectively, with the proposed field additions.
Franklin and Spalding field additions
Zoomed-in Spalding field additions

Renovated South Side building with field additions

New South Side building with field additions
Note that some of these facilities could offer additional benefits and attract additional users. South Side and possibly Edison students could use new South Side fields. Mellon employees and South Side neighborhood residents could exercise on the track. Spalding Park would have a pool accessible year-round to community residents, both near and far, through the Park District.


In their discussions at last Thursday's meeting, Tier Two committee members frequently returned to 3 generally related topics:

1) Is it better to renovate or build new?

When you ask people for an immediate reaction to a single word, you find that "renovated" means "creatively updated" to one person but "cheap cop-out" to another. Likewise, "new construction" means "latest and best" to some people, but means "boring box with no soul or history" to others. In a real-world example, committee member Will Kyles asked rhetorically if people would prefer to spend their money on old shoes or new shoes? To which committee member Chris Kloeppel asked, in turn, whether a buyer would prefer 1995 Air Jordans or 2016 Air Jordans?

(FYI, dear readers, I had to google the answer to that one: 1995 Air Jordans, definitely.)

Mark Jolicoeur of Perkins + Will was pushing to find out if the members of the Tier Two committee had an overall preference for renovating Central or building it new. The only eventual consensus from the committee was that they needed numbers to make that decision. Other important questions that need answers: How long could a renovation be expected to last? How thorough would a renovation be? How much does demolition add to overall costs? Working out answers to these questions will help our community come to an agreement about Central that doesn't depend solely on our gut reactions to what's "old" and what's "new."

2) What about any historical significance of buildings in the neighborhood, including the Central building itself?

As the News-Gazette's Nicole Lafond reported last week, a non-profit state preservation agency called Landmarks Illinois has placed "Central High School and its surrounding neighborhood" on its annual list of "most endangered historic places in Illinois." According to the agency's president, this distinction comes with an offer to help Champaign and Unit 4 figure out how to use historic buildings for modern purposes. Once again, questions of how our community views "old" and "new," as well as how a school affects a neighborhood, will feature prominently in the debate.

3) Comparison and compromise, Centennial and Central

Read here what Principal Joe Williams had to say about the history of inequities at Central High School; better yet, watch his impromptu remarks here, made near the end of last week's Tier Two meeting. His observations serve as a reminder that before Unit 4 can plan for the existence of a third high school (much less the site it might occupy), the current Board and administration are committed to making Centennial and Central equitable facilities.

Here, incidentally, are two proposals for updating and renovating Centennial (note that option 2 has a bigger gym addition than option 1)
Centennial renovation option 1

Centennial renovation option 2

Equity means that every group is treated fairly according to its needs -- not necessarily treated exactly the same. When it exists in the real world, equity often involves compromise. For example, if Central stays at its current location (in one of the scenarios described above), compromises will be made by both high schools. Central students would still have limited parking and still travel for some athletics; Centennial would lose its on-site pool and still share Tommy Stewart Field. If one group is too often asked to compromise, equity slips away. Capping Central's enrollment at this stage, as discussed during the meeting, does not bring sufficient benefits to Central for the Unit 4 administration to recommend it.

Principal Williams reminds us that discussion about any one school's capacity, programming, location, parking, etc. cannot occur in a vacuum. The challenge of creating a meaningful long-term facilities plan lies in reflecting the values voiced along the way, addressing existing needs, and showing the community that improving even one school improves us all.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Celebrating Libraries in Unit 4

Welcome to National Library Week (April 10-16, 2016) and National School Library Month (April 2016).

At our Board Meeting on 4/11/16, we were treated to a visit from at least 10 of our Unit 4 librarians and library clerks, as well as a fun presentation by Karen Klebbe (librarian at Centennial High School) featuring the multiple ways that our school libraries and their staff enhance our students' educational experience.

The pictures of students fully engaged in their library spaces are infectiously cheery. However, do not overlook perhaps the most serious point in the presentation: that 23% of our students reported this year that their school library was "their sole provider of books."

When you have a moment, please view the presentation for yourself. (By downloading it and opening it in Powerpoint, you will be able to view the comments that go along with the pictures.) It reminds me why when I was little, I dreamed of one day becoming a librarian.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Meetings, Meetings, Meetings...

Faithful readers, does it seem to you that no sooner does one meeting summary appear in this space, two more meetings need to be previewed?

Now imagine attending all those meetings as well... it's a busy spring here at Unit 4!

First, I call your attention to two meetings taking place this week:

4/11/16 Board Meeting 6:00pm [yes, tonight]

We meet in the Mellon Building, 703 S. New St. (next to South Side Elementary School) at 5:30pm, with the Open Session beginning closer to 6:00pm. Members of the public are welcome to observe, and to address the Board (for up to 3 minutes) during the designated public comment period. You can find the meeting agenda here. (Be sure to click on each agenda item to bring up additional information or description, including any attached documents.)

At this regular meeting of the Board, we are looking forward to two Staff Spotlight recognitions from March and April: teachers Janet Rosenberger (Barkstall) and Christine Creek (Central). Other highlights will include presentations from two organizations that provide invaluable support to our schools and our children: the Champaign Urbana Schools Foundation (CUSF) and Feeding Our Kids.

As Nicole Lafond reported in this morning's News-Gazette, we will also vote on one additional purchase option: on a property at 607 W. Church St., adjacent to the Hurst properties previously optioned near the current Central High School. While purchasing such options continues to enable public conversation about expanding Central at its current location (without purchasing the actual properties), they also support the Board's long-term commitment to maintaining an educational facility at the Central location even if the public eventually chooses to build that new high school elsewhere.

4/14/16 Tier Two Facilities Meeting 7:00pm (also in the Mellon Building, 703 S. New St.)

As always, the agenda will be posted here and public comment will be solicited from the audience both at the start and end of the meeting; video of the meeting will be available here.

This week our architect and construction management team will flesh out more detail for different scenarios for Central High School, including some long-awaited (but still preliminary!) numbers.


Last week's meeting of the Tier Two committee consisted primarily of a presentation from district administrators to the committee, giving specific and frankly disturbing examples of how inadequacies in our current facilities have a direct negative impact on the educational programming and environment in Unit 4. See Nicole Lafond's meeting summary in the News-Gazette here.

If anyone reading this blog post still doubts the very real facilities dilemmas facing our district, I urge them to watch this presentation. I challenge anyone to refute the realities objectively described within. Just a few examples:
  • the lack of space for the entire student body of Dr. Howard to gather in an assembly, except outside on the blacktop
  • the difficulty of sharing the single track at Centennial between our district's 10 track teams (middle and high, boy and girl)
  • "hosting" Unit 4's Young Adult special education programming in a trailer at the Columbia building
  • rehearsing Central's 200+ member marching band in a room designed for 50-60 students, at decibel levels comparable to a jet engine
  • no student with mobility disabilities can enroll at Dr. Howard or South Side; no family member with mobility disabilities can attend a presentation or visit the principal's office
  • for any high school student who enters the district between now and August 2016, not a single spot remains in any Career Tech/food science class because the classes and spaces are already full (as of April 2016)
  • the theater at Central has no backstage area; Centennial's theater has a backstage area that can't be used for theater since it's been converted to a classroom
  • students learning English, being tutored, or receiving other support services are taught in converted custodial closets, in hallways, and under stairwells (I have no idea where the custodians get to store their supplies)
  • we ask students to build projects in STEM classes (engineering? robotics?) yet classrooms have no space to store them
  • we try to hire the best possible teachers and staff, but lose candidates to better equipped districts that can provide better working conditions

We are developing a long-term Unit 4 facilities plan quite simply because these problems cannot be fixed all at once. A good plan will make as many teachers, students, and families as possible feel valued, supported, and confident that their needs -- or the needs of their younger siblings -- will eventually be met.


Finally, I'm working on improving the functionality of this blog when viewed on a mobile device. It has belatedly come to my attention that navigating between different posts is much more difficult on a phone than it is on the desktop version. Please try it again and let me know your suggestions for how I can make the reading experience easier. Bonus points will be awarded if you can tutor me in Blogger coding...

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Tier Two Progress, Old Schools, and Community Sentiment

As those of you know who have been following Unit 4's facilities discussions this spring, our Tier Two Facilities committee is focusing its long-term planning efforts on 6 schools: Central and Centennial High Schools, Edison Middle School, and 3 elementary schools (South Side, Dr. Howard, and the IPA, which might expand to K-8 in order to extend its dual-language programming to middle school).

To help the committee members speak more knowledgeably about the big picture of education in Unit 4 when they interact with community members, tomorrow's Tier Two meeting (April 7, 2016, 7:00pm at the Mellon Building) will feature presentations from Unit 4 administrators. As always, the agenda will be posted here and public comment will be solicited from the audience both at the start and end of the meeting; video of the meeting will be available here.

Near the end of her comprehensive review of last week's Tier Two Facilities meeting (which I recommend you read if you weren't able to attend), the News-Gazette's Nicole Lafond mentioned "There was considerable discussion over the best options for Dr. Howard and Edison and the committee voiced a need for more community input, financial projections and information on educational programming needs before making final decisions."

The financial projection piece and the educational programming piece are forthcoming from the professionals -- the architect/construction manager team members are working on the first piece, and our very own Unit 4 educators are working on the second piece. But what about community input?

Remember, this part of the process is all about the big picture. The time is not yet right to debate whether Dr. Howard should have terrazzo or linoleum floors, or whether Edison needs 30 or 35 additional parking places. What the Tier Two committee is asking about, and what the architects need to understand in order to create optimal solutions, is the level of attachment our community has to Dr. Howard, Edison, and Central -- the original buildings *and* their locations.

As discussed at the Tier Two meeting on 3/17, scenarios involving a remodeled Central, a new Central on optioned properties near the old building, and a new Central at Interstate will be carefully fleshed out and compared in order to thoroughly explore our community's preferences. As Mark Jolicoeur (Perkins + Will architect) is fond of saying (and I'm paraphrasing here), there are no right or wrong decisions -- only decisions that a community will support and pay for, and decisions that will be rejected.

What about Dr. Howard? What about Edison? What value, if any, resides in these buildings or in their neighborhood locations? Please tell us your opinions! Leave a comment on this post; email a Unit 4 Board member or administrator; contact a member of the Tier Two Facilities Committee; participate in public comment at any meeting of the Board or of the Tier Two committee. The success or failure of any long-term facilities plan rests not just on quantifiable data -- square footage, dollars -- but also on honoring the intangible priorities of our community.