DANVILLE — In a year or so, East Park Elementary School students will get to eat meals that were prepared in a modern kitchen in a new, nearby cafeteria.
Danville school board members on Wednesday voted 6-1 to award construction bids for the renovation project, which includes building a cafeteria-kitchen addition near the front entrance, after the district got favorable bids and interest rates on bonds that will help finance the project.
"I think we've been given a gift, and it's an opportunity we should not pass up," board member Randal Ashton said during a discussion on whether to go with the more expensive dining-area option or a less-expensive one that would build the cafeteria but use the school's existing kitchen.
"We want to do the job right," Superintendent Mark Denman added, "and ensure East Park's capability to serve our students well for many years into the future."
The renovation of the preK-5 school at 930 Colfax St. is the final project in an aggressive plan to address the district's three most-problematic buildings over a three-year period.
The $12.3 million South View Middle School renovation was completed around March, and the $13.76 million North Ridge Middle School renovation is expected to wrap up this year. Work on East Park, the largest of the three, will begin over the winter break.
The general contracting bid was awarded to McDowell Builders of Sidell, which offered a $6.85 milion bid for the base renovation work, the addition and a number of add-on projects.
F.J. Strahl won the mechanical and plumbing bids. The Danville firm offered a bid of about $4.04 million for the mechanical work, and a $648,500 bid for the plumbing.
The electrical bid went to Glesco Electric Inc. of Urbana, which offered a $972,780 bid for the base work and alternate options.
"I cannot emphasize enough that this is a really good deal," buildings and grounds Director Ron Henton said.
Architects estimated the renovation and various add-ons would exceed $14 million. But when officials opened bids on Monday, they were pleased to see the low, eligible offers, including the more expensive dining-area option, came in around $12.5 million.
Henton only partially attributed the competitive bids to the slow economy.
"I think we got some very good contractors who sharpened their pencils to give us really good prices," he said, adding the firms worked on the first two renovations as well. He said the final project will benefit from their experience and their relationship with the district.
The base renovation calls for adding a sloped metal roof, replacing exterior windows and doors, installing a new HVAC system, making electrical and plumbing upgrades and painting the building, all of which was done at South View and North Ridge.
Other add-ons include removing existing kitchen and other equipment, turning a commons area into a computer lab, installing window shades, repaving the west drive and parking lot and removing lockers that were used when East Park operated as a junior high and middle school but are no longer needed.
Board members Frank Young and Dan Brown questioned the need for a cafeteria and new kitchen. They expressed concerns about spending the money at time when local, state and federal funding remains uncertain.
"I don't want to short-change any of our students. (But) I don't want to be in a position of being strapped going into the next year," said Young, who voted in favor of the project.
Brown cast the lone "no" vote.
Denman said the school, along with the middle schools, were supposed to have cafeterias when they opened in 1961. But the money ran out, so they weren't built, leaving students to eat in schools' three commons areas.
"It's very disruptive to instruction," East Park Principal Chris Rice said of the noise from the commons areas, which are surrounded by classrooms.
While less expensive now, Henton said the option to build the cafeteria next to the existing kitchen is less efficient for serving food and could end up costing the district more money in the future if costly equipment repairs are needed.
Ashton and others said the district had an opportunity to finish all three renovations and do them correctly so that the buildings will remain viable well into the future.
In addition to the competitive bids, the district also received a 3.22 percent interest rate on general obligation school bonds and a 0 percent interest rate on Qualified Zone Academy Bonds, totaling $8.2 million. The district will add the money, which will be available on Dec. 27, to the $4.3 million that's been set aside for the work.
Business and Finance Director Heather McKiernan said the district will still have $283,000 for work at other buildings, including a $15,000 project at Cannon Elementary School that must be done soon.