As its facilities get older, District 204 weighs the price of repairs

Indian Prairie School District 204 Board members initially appeared a bit shell-shocked after finding out it could cost the district $176 million over the next two decades for needed school maintenance work.

Board members are wrestling with the cost of fixing district facilities against the cost of reducing class sizes, providing air conditioning, and other issues facing the district.

District 204, which experienced a building boom in the 1990s, now is looking at the cost of general facility repairs or replacements at the schools that are turning around 20 years old.

To help the district determine the urgency of the repairs, the district hired consultant EMG Inc. to perform a facility assessment of the district’s 33 schools and administration building.

Jay Strang, assistant superintendent for business, said setting aside money for maintenance has not been a priority in recent years.

“We have deferred maintenance over the last four to five years to deal with the difficult economic times, and we are running into a situation where some of our bigger systems — our roofing systems, our HVAC systems — need some attention and that will be a priority,” Strang said.

In March, the staff from EMG visited all the schools to look at all of the buildings’ assets, including the roof, heating and air systems, ceilings, carpeting, boilers, sidewalks and parking lots. The district maintains more than 4 million square feet in its buildings that sit on 662.2 acres of property.

Each item was given a priority rank on a scale of one to five, with one being critical to student safety that must be addressed immediately and five being part of general replacement or repair that can be deferred up to 20 years based on the estimated life of the item.

This week, the School Board was given the first report on all the district buildings to give board members an idea of how detailed the EMG report gets. The report gave an outline of $3.2 million in maintenance work that can be expected in the next 20 years at Longwood Elementary School in Naperville alone. Among the projects the district can expect are replacing the roof and repaving the parking lot.

School Board member Michael Raczak said the $3.2 million price tag just for Longwood, one of the district’s smaller schools, has him questioning how to pay for repairs across the entire district.

“Even now, I wonder if all of our roofs give out, because many of buildings were built at the same time,” he said.

The facilities report is just a piece of the financial puzzle facing District 204.

School Board members say the cost of air conditioning all schools and technology upgrades, raising teacher salaries to encourage staff to stay in District 204, and the extra price of providing more staff development all weigh into the picture.

School Board members Justin Karubas and Maria Curry said they also would like the district to determine how much it would cost to reduce class sizes.

Because finances are tight, District 204 likely will be looking to taxpayers for more money to pay for education and facility improvements. The problem is deciding which issue to tackle first.

Priority list

Superintendent Kathryn Birkett urged School Board members to determine what they deem most important. She said her staff can provide all sorts of reports and estimates on salary increases, staff development, and class-size reductions.

Birkett said right now school administrators are working under the board’s goal of raising student achievement as the priority. If that is different, then the board needs to let the administration know, she said.

The School Board is expected to spend an upcoming workshop session determining its spending priorities.