DeKALB – DeKalb School District 428 is taking time to consider its options for fulfilling space needs amid growing pressure from Northern Illinois University and its leadership calling on school officials to commit to the acquisition of the university’s nursing school building.
The district initially started discussing the prospect of acquiring the building this past spring. Since then, the district has hosted a pair of community conversations on this topic to solicit public input.
The 9.1-acre property, located at 1240 Normal Road, consists of a single-story, 24,000 square-foot structure on the city’s north side that’s been declared surplus real estate by university leaders. If the district proceeds with this option, no referendum to fund is anticipated. Two alternative options under consideration by the school board would not involve acquiring the NIU nursing school building but require going out to referendum for funding.
Some board members, however, weren’t sold on the urgency with which the district needs to act on acquiring the NIU School of Nursing Building.
“I mean, this is like massive. We’re building a school. We’re talking about spending $40 million potentially.”— Sarah Moses, DeKalb District 428 school board member
“I would definitely say we would better not to rush to try to make a decision here without Tammy being here to talk to us about it in a situation where there’s no way that building’s going anywhere tomorrow,” school board member Jeromy Olson said. “It’s going to be there. There’s no competition.”
One such concept proposes the construction of a $38 million school on new land. Another concept would mean the building would be demolished creating the vacant lot needed to build a new $31.5 million school.
A school board decision on the NIU School of Nursing Building’s acquisition by way of a lease-to-purchase agreement valued at $1,860,000 is anticipated as early as March 7.
In doing so, NIU would temporarily relocate the nursing school to the Wellness and Literacy Building, located at 3100 Sycamore Road in DeKalb, so that the temporary space would be ready for NIU nursing students this fall, according to school board documents.
That space, however, would require an estimated $950,000 in renovations before the spring, which according to school board documents is why university leaders need an answer from DeKalb District 428 sooner rather than later.
Board member Sarah Moses said she believes the district needs to do its due diligence.
“If we’re being asked potentially next meeting [to] vote on building a brand-new school and acquiring land and Tammy has all this information, it’s probably good to have this discussion when Tammy is here and able to answer a lot of these questions publicly,” Moses said. “I mean, this is like massive. We’re building a school. We’re talking about spending $40 million potentially. So, I think that No. 1, that’s important that she be part of this discussion, so we can have a full robust conversation for the public and us.”
NIU has a new Health IT Center in the works, which the School of Nursing Building would later become home to upon completion, according to school board documents.
If the district proceeds with acquiring the NIU nursing school building, officials are anticipating the prospect of renovating and adding onto the space for an additional $28.5 million, according to school board documents.
Not everyone said they would be on board with the district acquiring the NIU nursing school building.
Olson said he would be opposed to the acquisition of the building.
“It just seems like you’re throwing good money after bad there,” Olson said. “It’s not flexible enough; It’s not big enough. … There’s structural issues. I think it’s going to inhibit a lot of things. There are not a huge amount of savings.”
Board President Samantha McDavid said she has some reservations about going out to referendum.
“It gets us where we need elementary-wise, and it helps us get to potentially then start looking at the second phase of addressing of [early learning development center] and middle school quicker maybe,” McDavid said. “The referendum does make me nervous, even if we’re not asking taxpayers for money. The way that referendums are worded, I think it could be an uphill battle.”
The district has identified that an elementary school is of need for residents in the city’s north corridor, officials said.
Cindy Carpenter, the district’s director of business and finance, said that 32% of the district’s elementary students live in the area in question.
McDavid suggested that the school board bring this topic back for discussion at a time when Tammy Carson, the district’s director of facility and safety operations, is present.