Rising costs for District 709 bus park ‘mind-boggling’

Steve Stein GateHouse Media Illinois

The estimated cost of a new District 709 school bus parking facility next to the Morton headquarters fire station has grown from $750,000 to more than $1 million over the past few months.

And that has several School Board members suffering from a case of sticker shock, even though the board agreed unanimously May 21 that more design work should be done and the project should go out for bids.

Under the terms of the district’s agreement with the village of Morton to lease land next to the fire station on Courtland Street rent-free for 99 years, the village will oversee the bidding for the project.

“I’m excited about moving the buses away from the high school. It’s something we’ve been working on for six or seven years,” said board member Tom Neeley.

“But the cost is mind-boggling. And it’s money that won’t be available for educating students. We could buy 2,000 iPads with that money.”

“We must let the taxpayers know we’re not building a crystal palace. This is something that’s necessary,” said board member John Applen.

Construction scenarios of an estimated $1.2 million and $1.1 million were presented May 21 to the board. Both include a bus parking area, parking for transportation staff, and a building for staff and equipment storage.

The lower estimate cuts out canopies for the 34 buses as a cost-saving measure of about $125,000. That concerns board member Shaun Bill, who noted that buses are outside every day of the year.

“This facility is a one-time cost to the district, and we need to do it right,” he said.

Board member Kelly Scarfe said if the new facility isn’t an improvement, then perhaps it shouldn’t be built.

Buses are currently parked at Morton High School, where they contribute to a parking crunch and are not well-liked by residents in nearby neighborhoods.

“We’re trying to be a good neighbor because people have been complaining about the buses for years,” said board member Tim Taylor. “But it’s true the money for the new facility can’t be used in the classroom.”

Under the agreement, the village will spend an estimated $71,000 to construct a concrete driveway to the bus facility.

On a related note, the board approved part of the agreement that allows the Morton Chamber of Commerce to lease green space next to Jefferson Elementary School each September for the annual Morton Pumpkin Festival.

Like the fire station lease, the lease is rent-free for 99 years.

The agreement stipulates the chamber’s responsibilities for use of the land. The festival has been held at the site for more than 40 years.

• School Board Member, Clint Heinold, re-elected at the April 9 election was seated. Dr. Hall administered the Oath of Office. • Dr. Hall acknowledged grants awarded throughout the school district by the Morton Community Foundation in the amount of $10,050. • The board heard a report on “Morton Leadership Academy” that will be an after-school program at Jefferson School for third-sixth graders beginning in the fall. The program will focus on leadership and mentoring, careers and occupations, goal setting, service and project based learning. • The board heard a report on a new leadership program beginning in the fall at MHS. The goal of “Learn to Lead” is to foster the growth of female leaders through identifying leadership strengths and styles, while also instilling confidence and discovery of talents. The program is privately endowed by several members of the community through a grant from the Morton Community Foundation. • Dr. Teater gave an update on the vision and direction of the continuation of integrating technology into the curriculum. Discussion items: • Changes in Teacher Evaluation—a committee of teachers and administrators met monthly during the school year to formulate a new evaluation instrument to include all certified positions. The process came about as a result of Senate Bill 7 and the Performance Evaluation Reform Act. • Layout and cost estimates of the new bus facility to be located on village-owned property on Courtland Ave. Items approved by the board: • Lease for transportation vehicles—five-year lease for three 84 passenger and two 29-passenger buses from Commerce Bank for $93,133.20/year. • Lease between the school district and the Morton Chamber of Commerce for use of Jefferson School property for the Pumpkin Festival. • 2013-2014 Student Fees and Bertha Frank Performing Arts Center rental fees.

Meeting highlights