Thursday, March 31, 2016

Preview of Tier Two Meeting 3/31/16

Mark your calendars for tonight's meeting of the Special Board Committee on Facilities, Tier Two:

Thursday, 3/31/16, 7:00pm (Mellon Building Board Room, 703 S. New St.)

In addition to opportunities for public comment, as well as discussions of communications and questions raised since last week's meeting, members of our architect/construction manager team will return to help the committee examine the projects on the table. See the meeting agenda here, as well as the schedule for future Tier Two meetings here.

In a previous blog post, I called your attention to Unit 4's new subdomain dedicated to Facility Planning. (From the Unit 4 home page, you can navigate there in several ways: a featured link currently rotating on the top banner and also in a right side graphic button, as well as the link in its regular menu location under Community --> Committees --> Special Board Committee on Facilities.)

Why mention this again? There's the obvious reason -- new material is added almost daily -- but I've said that already. I want to highlight the section here: "Suggestions from the Public."

If you've got a concern or a light-bulb idea about our facility planning, and you write to your city council representative, to the News-Gazette, or to your favorite Unit 4 Board member, we are collecting and sharing those communications whenever they are shared with us. We try to respond to each communication, whether at a Tier Two meeting or in writing (in which case we will post the response as well). We are still planning more formal ways to gather public input -- town hall meeting, surveys, etc. -- but in the meantime we are committed to holding a dialogue throughout this process.

Some have questioned whether the Tier Two committee has been assembled to rubber-stamp a facilities plan that has already been developed behind closed doors by the Unit 4 Administration and the Board. It's a fair question; although I can't speak for the brave citizens on the Tier Two committee, I imagine they are feeling bombarded with information and wondering what they're "supposed" to do with it.

So here's the secret truth: Tier Two was designed to represent all of you, but it needs public input to function properly. Unit 4's not-so-secret plan is to present an abundance of information gathered over the years, appreciate its complexity, answer questions, and provide a forum for discussion and the eventual synthesis of informed and realistic options for our community.

The Tier Two committee members need your participation to do what they volunteered to do. How can you help? Any time you have a conversation about Unit 4 facilities, make sure the person you're talking with knows how to stay informed. Refer them to the Unit 4 website, to the Facilities subdomain, to this blog, to Unit 4 News and Announcements, to all the various Unit 4 participants on social media. Then let any of us know what you are thinking, and spread the word.

These are your schools. This is your process.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Coming Up This Week

I call your attention to two meetings this week:

3/29/16 Board Meeting 6:00pm [note this meeting is Tuesday, not Monday]

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.)

Most of our agenda for Tuesday's meeting focuses on staffing matters for the academic year 2016-2017. And in a vote that will likely affect the most people: we will officially fix the last day of the current school year.*


3/31/16 Tier Two Meeting 7:00pm (also in the Mellon Building Board Room, 703 S. New St.)

Look for the agenda for this meeting to be posted soon.

The Board of Education has formed a Special Board Committee to provide recommendations on a long term facility plan for Unit 4. Meetings of this committee's Tier Two -- which consists of representatives from elected bodies of local government, the business community, and at-large community members -- began in February and will continue weekly until May. All community members are invited to attend and provide public comment as part of the agenda. Documents provided to and discussed by the committee, as well as videos of past committee meetings, are available on the Unit 4 website.

***


*Spoiler Alert: barring any future extreme weather events, the last day of the 2015-16 school year will be 5/24/16 for graduating seniors, 5/26/16 for Regular Calendar schools and 6/1/16 for Balanced Calendar schools. I anticipate minimal controversy on this vote.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Architects Unveil School Site Concepts at Tier Two Meeting

Thursday night's meeting of the Board's Tier Two Special Committee on Facilities ran late, as I have come to expect. Assembling a group of outspoken and animated people who are invested in our community is hardly a recipe for brevity. Even after facilitator Steve Carter finally called an end to the meeting, and thoughts of March Madness might have lured people home to their televisions, committee members mingled with audience members and architects and the spirited conversation continued.

A meeting that people have a hard time leaving? That's something to be proud of! Relive the magic here. You can also revisit the highlights of the meeting through the excellent reporting/interviewing of Nicole Lafond (News-Gazette) and Brian Moline (WILL).

Mark Jolicoeur from Perkins + Will led the evening's main presentation, representing the architecture team (Perkins + Will and IGW Architecture) that the District hired in January for pre-referendum facilities planning. You can view his full presentation here. He introduced the audience to handy phrases such as "conceptual test fits," "phased implementation," "selective demolition," and perhaps most importantly, "urban school" as a design term for a school building located in a populated area with limited outdoor/green space.

He shared overall site concepts for 3 elementary schools, 1 middle school, and 2 high schools in Unit 4. Each site concept involves various options: renovation; addition plus "selective demolition" (saving the good parts of a building and getting rid of the bad); or even complete demolition and rebuilding new. As "conceptual test fits," these designs 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.

Of the 6 schools in the presentation, Central High School appeared on the most slides: 8 different site designs on 4 different sites. As previously reported by both the News-Gazette and WILL, the committee decided by the end of the evening to narrow down the options they wish to explore further by eliminating the South Side/Mellon site and the Country Fair site for a new Central. The two sites still on the table for Tier Two's consideration are Central's current location and the Interstate Drive location.

Even including the optioned properties around Central, these two sites are nowhere near equal in size. Previous Unit 4 boards have focused on Illinois Capital Development Board (CDB) Acreage Guidelines to calculate recommended acreage for a high school -- 20 acres plus 1 acre per 100 students. At Thursday's meeting, in fact, we were reminded of this formula in a public communication about Unit 4's evolving site selection parameters. However, I've looked more closely at this formula and found that it "should have the effect of capping the number of acres associated with a school." Turns out it's actually a formula for the maximum acreage for a school site fundable by grants from the CDB.

The minimum acreage the CDB would consider for funding a high school site in Illinois? 1.5 (!) acres.

Back in 2004, the same planning association that originally developed acreage formulas for school sites recommended instead that school districts move away from acreage formulas in favor of a more flexible approach based on educational and community needs. (I refer interested readers to this summary of a nationwide shift away from large school campuses, from McDonald, JAPA, 2010.)

My brief digression into site size brings us back to Thursday's Tier Two committee discussion of the "urban school." When a committee member asked Mr. Jolicoeur for a good example of an urban high school, he responded promptly with the Oak Park and River Forest High School (in his hometown of Oak Park, IL) -- a school of 3300 students in a 4-story building that sits in a residential neighborhood on a site of 15 acres.

Most people in Unit 4 already have a general idea what a new Central high school on Interstate Drive might look like, so that particular site concept (below) was not the focus of the committee's discussion.



Instead, Tier Two committee and audience members alike were intrigued by 5 concepts for re-envisioning Central High School at its current site (5.9 acres + 6.4 optioned acres). Those 5 options can be viewed below (or here).

Note: original building colored blue or, if demolished, indicated with dotted line; new construction/additions in light red







Here are two options for enlarging the footprint at Centennial -- again, based on the priorities for capacity and programming provided by the Tier One process:



What now?

At the next meeting of Tier Two on March 31, district officials will present a crash course in district finances. Conversations between Unit 4 and the entities of government represented on Tier Two will continue. Meanwhile, our team of architects/construction managers will work to put dollar signs on options for all 6 schools -- both construction and life-cycle costs -- and determine what further studies are needed (engineering? traffic?).

And then? Perhaps a town hall for public discussion? What would you like to see happen next?

Please let us know, and then spread the word!

Friday, March 11, 2016

Preview of Board Meeting 3/14/16

Just a brief look ahead to Monday's meeting of the Board:

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.)

Dr. Wiegand will wrap up the three-part series of presentations begun last month, in which she and her executive team have highlighted curriculum, instruction, and assessment in Unit 4. On Monday we will hear about the current successes and challenges of our twelve K-5 elementary schools.

Other items on our agenda include the following:

-- Presentation of the annual audit of Unit 4's employment practices by race and gender, as required by Board policy on Affirmative Action (Section 500.21, last revised 2010, reprinted in the audit on pp. 101-109). This Affirmative Action/Equal Employment Opportunity (AA/EEO) audit is reviewed by our standing Diversity Committee -- composed of members of the District’s two collective bargaining units, administrators, parents, and community members -- which evaluates the continuing effectiveness of the policy.

For those of you interested in Unit 4's hiring record, I offer a reminder gleaned from our Board Retreat last week with Dr. Patrick Rice (our representative from the Illinois Association of School Boards). The primary job of a school board is good governance. As members of the Board, we do not get involved in individual district hires. Instead, it is our job to create policies in tune with the goals of the community we represent, and then evaluate how the superintendent implements these policies. That's the reason for reports such the AA/EEO audit -- although it may feel impersonal, it's how we as Board members stay informed about the big picture of employee diversity in Unit 4. I encourage members of our community to read and digest this information at your leisure.

-- Request from the administration for approval of the Construction Document Phase of the new District Transportation Facility, with a total project cost estimate of $3.8 million. The plans have evolved based on input from drivers, monitors, office staff, mechanics, administration, copy services, food services, MTD, and our own Operations/Maintenance Department.

Enjoy the weekend and see you Monday night!


Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Tier Two Progress

Mark your calendars for the second meeting of the Special Board Committee on Facilities, Tier Two:

Thursday, 3/10/16, 7:00pm (Mellon Building Board Room, 703 S. New St.)

In addition to opportunities for public comment, as well as discussions of communications and questions raised since last week's meeting, Thursday's meeting will feature presentations about property in the district suitable for schools. See the agenda here, as well as the schedule for future Tier Two meetings here.

While you're checking out the agenda, or whenever you have a spare moment, please spend some more time exploring the Unit 4 website. Have you noticed that it features an entirely new subdomain dedicated to Facility Planning? (From the Unit 4 home page, you can navigate there in several ways: a featured link currently rotating on the top banner and also in a right side graphic button, as well as the link in its regular menu location under Community --> Committees --> Special Board Committee on Facilities.) New material is added almost daily.

Stephanie Stuart, Tyler Jackson, Eric Squires, Tammy Sowers, and their Unit 4 colleagues have graciously accepted the challenge laid down by the Board to make this planning process as transparent as possible. We couldn't come close to providing this level of public access without their efforts and the support of the District. Thanks to their ongoing work on this website, anyone can read what the Tier Two committee reads, see what they see, hear what they hear, and get paid what they get paid.  <-- Ahem... that last part is a joke...

It's no joke, however, that everyone serving on the Tier Two committee is donating their time to Unit 4 because they are committed to a process that will ultimately benefit our students and our community. They volunteered to help the Board develop a facility plan that all of us can come to understand and support. Please thank the committee members for their time and effort when you run into them, and please participate in any way you can.