Niles school board approves final bond proposal

Published 2:37 am Tuesday, December 19, 2006

By By ANDY HAMILTON / Niles Daily Star
NILES – The recommendation for a Niles Community Schools bond proposal was issued Monday night.
The district's bond steering committee presented the proposal during the regular meeting of the board of education. The plan centers on a kindergarten center and reflects one of four options that were being weighed by the bond steering committee, said superintendent Doug Law.
"We had to do some things to make sure we got to that 4-mill limit," Law said of the proposal.
Now that the board has accepted the proposal, Law said the next step is a Jan. 30 appointment with the state treasury department to approve the request. The bond proposal will appear on the May 8 election ballot, Law said.
The proposal was one of four the bond steering committee was seeking public input on in the forms of community forums and surveys. It resembles Option 4, which was the second cheapest proposal being weighed by the bond steering committee.
The proposal is split in two, with the first, bond proposal A, for elementary upgrades and school safety, and the second, bond proposal B, for covering the renovation of Eastside Elementary School. The tentative cost of proposal A is $38.35 million requiring 3.95 mills across a period of 29.87 years. The projected price for proposal B is $2.4 million and .25 mills for 29.87 years.
The main overhaul in the proposal will be moving all kindergarten students to Northside Child Development Center, which will require an additional eight classrooms and a new office. Other minor renovations would be conducted to improve the building's appearance and functionality.
The additions will allow 325 to 350 half-day students to attend Northside at one time, giving the school the option of serving up to 700 kindergarten students in a full day. The second benefit is the ability to offer an optional full-day educational program for kindergarten students, which is something the board of education has been very interested in, Law said.
The full-day program would include a half-day of kindergarten combined with a half-day "extended school experience," Law said, with a 10 to one ratio of students to instructional assistants – not teachers. The extended school experience – not necessarily academic-heavy – would also be offered on a tuition basis, he added.
Under the bond proposal, "major remodeling and additions" would also be necessary at both Howard and Ballard elementary schools so each building could accommodate 700 to 750 first through fifth grade students. Some major improvements would include new heating and ventilation systems, energy efficient windows and lighting and improved classroom acoustics. Also, both schools would be re-wired for electricity and fiber optics, and the offices in both buildings would be improved for security.
Proposal B, which would only be implemented if proposal A passes, is to renovate the first floor of Eastside Elementary School to house alternative education, adult education and administrative offices. The second floor of Eastside would be untouched and used for storage.
Cedar Lane Alternative High School, Westside Administrative Services Center and Ellis Elementary School would all close and be put up for sale if both proposals pass. Howard, Ballard, Northside and all remaining buildings – Niles High School, Ring Lardner Middle School and Oak Manor Sixth Grade Center – would also be upgraded for security, traffic flow and fiber optics.
Security upgrades would include cameras and door security systems, and all buildings would be connected with fiber optics. Plus, each school would have improved parking and student drop-off areas.
If proposal A passes but B does not, Law said alternative education, adult education and administrative offices would remain at Westside. Cedar Lane would also remain open, but Eastside would still close, and plans for both buildings would be re-considered during the second phase of the Niles revamping process.
The steering committee also decided to not include the option of purchasing the Lake Street property for $478,000, a price the district locked in through October 2007 for $10,000. The land was being considered for future projects because, as Law said previously, the district is fairly "property poor."
In a statement to the board about the proposal, Law said the district performed its own study on the "cost impact" of the proposed changes and believes additional bus routes will be required. But, he added the study also projected there would be "a sufficient savings in staff costs and operational costs to more than cover the increase in transportation costs."
"The total project will result in net savings for the district. The study also concluded that it was important to maintain the district standard of limiting bus rides to no more than one hour, one way," Law said.
Law said last month that a lack of public input was threatening the chances of placing the proposal on the May election ballot. Data obtained through a second survey mailed out by the bond steering committee showed about 35 percent of voters in the previous bond proposal said they would not support any plan put forth by Niles schools, Law said.
"The [bond steering] committee recognizes that this is going to require a lot of work on their part. They believe that this … begins the process of upgrading our buildings," Law said. "[The proposal] is limited enough in scope. It's very focused, very easy to explain to the public."
Law also said the millage amount Niles is requesting – 4 .2 mills for both proposals – is similar to other area school districts. Law also pointed to Brandywine's plan as a model for Niles.
The bond steering committee has been instructed by the board of education to create a "long range facility plan." Part of that is anticipating a second phase to revamp all buildings not improved with the next proposed bond and a third phase of improvements focusing on the high school and athletic facilities.
The goal for Niles, he said, is to approach voters every few years with a bond proposal that does not ask for a higher millage rate and has a capped amount of time. Brandywine is also proposing a bond in May that asks for the same rate approved in 2003 – 4.85 mills for no longer than 25 years.