Urbana's plan: Renovation without taxation
Good news, Urbana: Many of the district's schools will receive multimillion-dollar upgrades — and your property tax bills won't soar because of it.
Good plan or not? Ask Tom Kacich about it here
That's the word from the school board, weeks after city residents learned how much more they'll have to pay at tax time, thanks to a state law declaring not-for-profit hospitals such as Carle exempt from property taxes.
"Our desire is to move forward with this without increasing the load on the property tax," said school board President John Dimit.
The board, which meets tonight, plans to develop a timeline in the coming weeks for the order of facility improvements. But the payment plan for the projects, totaling more than $27 million, appears set:
— Rather than tackle everything on its wish list at once and saddle taxpayers with the costs, the board will stagger the projects on a pay-as-you-go basis. Said Dimit: "The facilities committee believes it is important that, once we start a school, we finish the school before we move on to the next one."
— The district has so far set aside $4 million from Urbana's portion of the Champaign County sales tax for school facilities, Director Carol Baker said.
— Urbana could sell the former Washington Early Childhood School building at 1002 N. Broadway Avenue — and use some of that money for facility improvements.
"We have been exploring the possibilities with some interested parties, and we do have some interest at this point," Superintendent Don Owen said. "But we haven't actually put it on the market."
Following are the major projects the board is considering. Preliminary estimates — based on today's costs — were provided by Director of Facilities Ota Dossett. Riley Glerum of IGW Architects, a district consultant, estimated the prices could go up 2 percent to 3 percent a year due to inflation.
Projected cost:$2.8 million
To-do list: Replace the roof; build partition walls; add central air conditioning to the entire building.
In March 2012, the district broke ground on what was planned to be an $11.8 million project. It included a new gymnasium (check) and central air.
"Prairie School has already got its new gymnasium, so part of the work is already done," Dossett said. "The question is whether you have the money to do the air conditioning. If the answer is no, then we wait."
Projected cost:$2.5 million
To-do list: Replace a kitchen that Owen describes as "circa 1957."
Don't take the superintendent's word for it. Just ask the folks at the Champaign Urbana Public Health District, who've gotten to know Urbana's kitchen well over the years.
"I can't tell you how many times the public health people and I have been friends on this old kitchen," Dossett said. "I had to knock out part of a wall and put in a hand washing sink or something else to be compliant with the codes so ... they wouldn't close the kitchen. This plan fully addresses all that."
It calls for:
— Upgrading the serving area, likely based on the design recommended by a consultant the district hired last year. It would, Dimit said, put the facility in line with USDA regulations and speed up food lines. "The serving line area is a bottleneck," Dossett said.
— Make a kitchen Dossett refers to as "a power hog" more energy-efficient.
"When the facilities committee went on a tour to look at it, and I opened up a closet door, the walk-in freezer was venting into the closet," Dimit said. "That's about as highly inefficient as you can get. The closet must have been 120 degrees, and we are trying to keep the freezer cool next to it."
— Cut down on repair costs. Last year alone, the district spent about $10,000 to fix miscellaneous items in the kitchen, Dossett said. And he can remember four instances this year that something has gone wrong with the "obsolete" walk-in freezer.
"Every morning between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m., I get a call from FE Moran saying the environmental control alarm is going off at the high school," Dossett said. "That means that, when they are loading the freezer, the freezer is not able to hold the temperature and sets off the alarm. We have that alarm there on purpose so we wouldn't lose the food in the freezer, and they call us every morning. That particular unit is one of my biggest fears."
— Make students happier, not hungrier. In addition to a quicker-paced lunch line, the proposed setup would include a visible food prep station, allowing the school to offer treats like "taco days," Dossett said. "It would be similar to watching your food being made at Panera Bread or some place like that."
Think urban cafe, he said. Not "standard institutional serving line."
YANKEE RIDGE ELEMENTARY
Projected cost: $7.1 million
To-do list:Replace the roof; build a new, functional kitchen and multi-purpose area; add central air conditioning; replace the school's leaky windows; add fine arts classrooms.
Also in the plans for the three elementary schools listed here: to-be-determined programming improvements. The district says those will be a result of faculty, principal and staff determining what types of improvements they'd like, then meeting with an architect to hash out the details.
Within the district, Dossett said, Prairie's roof is in the worst shape, followed closely by Yankee Ridge's.
And like the high school, Yankee Ridge's kitchen needs major work.
"Yankee Ridge has a nice gymnasium, but they have a broom closet for a kitchen," Dossett said. "It's a sink base with two sides, two sets of cabinets, a very small microwave and a freezer.
"I would say it really doesn't have a kitchen."
THOMAS PAINE ELEMENTARY
Projected cost: $7.3 million
To-do list: Improve programming; build a new gym and stage; update the kitchen and multipurpose room; add fine arts classrooms; convert the student drop-off area to serve separate bus and car traffic.
Dossett said the district has applied for a grant to cover $87,000 the dropoff area work, but it didn't come through.
Thomas Paine's kitchen oven was purchased during the Lyndon Johnson administration. The dishwasher conked out sometime during Bill Clinton's second term.
"In order to be more green and not use so much Styrofoam or paper, it would be nice to have a dishwasher," Dossett said.
Projected cost: $7.4 million
To-do list: Improve programming; abate asbestos; update the kitchen; add to the gym; build a fine arts classroom; convert the student dropoff area into a loop, with a new front entrance; construct a new lobby.
Different school, similar kitchen issues. "It has the same kind of oven that Thomas Paine has," Dossett said.
The building's asbestos is completely contained, he said, but the cost of removing it would be compounded by workers having to take out the building's ceiling and lights to get to it.
The ETA is still TBA but Urbana school district officials are discussing a $27 million-plus plan to upgrade five of its facilities. The early cost estimates:
Wiley Elementary: $7.4 million
Thomas Paine Elementary: $7.3 million
Yankee Ridge Elementary: $7.1 million
Prairie Elementary: $2.8 million
Urbana High: $2.5 million