Summer of upgrades planned by Urbana schools

Summer of upgrades planned by Urbana schools

URBANA – Buildings around the Urbana school district could see major improvements during the summer.

Prairie Elementary School students could return to a building with new, energy-efficient lighting in the hallways, new flag poles, new exterior security cameras and new flooring replacing some old asbestos flooring in the building.

And that's just one school.

At a school board meeting Tuesday evening, Ota Dossett, the district's director of facilities, discussed two to-do lists of maintenance and upgrades, including potential projects at every school.

"I went through to see what we could possibly accommodate in a year, in this summer," Dossett said. Pointing out the suggested summer projects, he said, "those are the things that really, really need to be done."

Board members approved one list of items to head to the state for financial approval under the heading of life safety. That heading means that the projects are capital items that are obsolete or need necessary replacement.

Though the money for these comes from local taxes, the state has to approve the projects, Dossett said.

One of the main jobs on the list is replacing much of the asbestos flooring in several schools. "It was widely used in the '50s and '60s," Dossett said. "It's time for it to go."

The second to-do list evolved as the board moves through the process of getting working cash bonds. In past meetings, the district has discussed, held a hearing and passed a request for bids from banks on interest on bonds.

These bonds would allow the district to do capital improvment projects that don't fall under the life safety category, including several energy-efficiency projects, an air-conditioning addition, seating replacements and several other items.

"What this does is provides us with the ability to make some extremely well-needed improvements," said John Dimit, board vice president. "We're doing this in a manner that slows down the drop in our tax rate. It does not increase our tax rate."

However, if a house's assessed value goes up, it could increase its bill. For the owner of a $100,000 home, said district Business Manager Carol Baker, that working cash bond would cost about $23 a year.

Of four bids the district received on the bonds, Main Street Bank and Trust came back with the lowest interest rate, and its bid was accepted.

As the financial part moves forward, the board plans to continue discussing the priority of projects, possibly in its March study session.

"Before we approve anything, we'll make sure they make a significant difference," said board member Mark Netter. "Does paving a parking lot benefit students? Well, I want to hear from people about it. ... Let's talk about these."

The board also voted to change the wording on Janice Bradley's time spent out of the principal position at Thomas Paine Elementary School. On Feb. 7, she was placed on paid administrative leave.

That term was changed to a paid suspension for the purposes of conducting an investigation – which several board members stressed was not a disciplinary term, but was done to comply with state and district guidelines.

A second-grade teacher at Thomas Paine – Jon White, 26, of Normal – was arrested Jan. 31 and charged with three counts of predatory sexual assault of a child. The investigation concerns that case.

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