News - McHenry County

Prairie Grove School District 46 Board mulls upgrades worth millons

Millions of dollars could be spent on elementary school

Prairie Grove School District 46 Board President Joe Ricciardi listens to conversation about a proposed facility master plan at a special meeting Monday, August 6, 2018 in Prairie Grove.

Prairie Grove Elementary School needs millions of dollars in upgrades and vital repairs, Prairie Grove School District 46 Board President Joe Ricciardi said.

Ricciardi, other board members and staff discussed a master facility plan and potential building improvements during a special meeting Monday evening in the school library, 3225 Route 176.

“We identified several issues with this building that failed to be addressed year after year after year because they were big-dollar projects,” Ricciardi said, adding that Monday’s meeting was designed to explore the master plan commissioned by Chicago-based firm CannonDesign. “Tonight was the opportunity for us to say, ‘OK, we’ve looked at this master plan in detail, we’ve taken some time, we’ve thought about it, we’ve done some research, these are the questions that we have.’ ”

The school has about 700 students. The planned Woodlore Estates project near Routes 31 and 176 is estimated to add 270 students in the coming years.

Three design options

CannonDesign created three design options that were presented to the board: baseline, upgrade and premium.

The baseline option is projected to cost $36 million. It would include a centralized library, a new secure entrance behind where the school sits, co-located shared student services and a north wing light renovation, among other projects. Class sizes would increase.

The upgrade option, which would build off the baseline options, would cost $49 million. It would maintain class sizes, include personalized learning accommodations within classrooms and a full renovation of north wing classrooms.

The premium option would cost about $60 million. It would include demolition of the north wing classrooms and gym, along with upgrades and a floor plan reconfiguration. All three options would remove the school’s mobile units and add air conditioning.

The board is expected to come up with an action plan for next summer in the coming weeks.

“At the next meeting, or no later than September because we have a time window that we have to fulfill. If we’re going to go ahead and put a project out for bid and evaluate those bids and go through all the legal processes that are required in order to get a legal project going, we really have to start that by September at the latest,” Ricciardi said.

Ricciardi said the district is required by law to repair or upgrade portions of the electrical system and brickwork.

“We know we have to get certain things done next summer,” he said. “We’ve identified several million dollars of health and life-safety issues with this building that absolutely must get fixed.”

Ricciardi said he doesn’t want taxpayers to get the impression that “we’re ready to write a check for somewhere between $30 and $60 million.”

He said the master plan proposals are designed to be built over a 10-year period if approved.

“We know we don’t live in a world of unlimited resources. We plan to pick and choose wisely on the things that must get done. If we cannot only accomplish those things that must get done or we can also improve the environment which equals better learning outcomes for the same cost or just slightly more, wouldn’t that be a better investment of taxpayer dollars?”

Ricciardi said “education essentially has not changed in the United States in 80 years, but the world that we work in, the world that we’re preparing these students for, is incredibly different than it was 50 or 60 years ago.” He said that the school’s current classrooms are designed to train students for careers in factories.

Not everyone in attendance was keen on upgrading the school to include more collaborative learning areas and additional space.

“My three children went to this school OK. They sat in the desks and rows, and they’re not factory workers. Most of their friends aren’t, either,” resident Jim Bossemeyer said. “To me, the quality of the education comes down to the teacher and the curriculum. ... I’m not in favor of remodeling the classrooms.”

Bossemeyer said he believes that the board must “manage the school in a financially sound way.”

“Our taxes keep going up, enrollment keeps going down,” Bossemeyer said.

Board member Charlotte Kremer expressed similar concerns.

“As a village trustee, I can only tell you what I hear from my residents, ‘Do not raise my taxes, not for anything,’ ” Kremer said.

Ricciardi said the district has acted with fiscal responsibility but has “not spent money that should have been spent.” He said the district has about $3.5 million to spend on next summer’s improvements without raising taxes in any way.” The next board meeting is Tuesday.