Halls of 709: School progress not stopped by weather

Staff Writer
Morton Times-News
Dr. Lindsey Hall

Even though it seems we have been in and out of school quite a bit since the start of 2014 with weather related closings occurring much more frequently than recent memory, the work of the school district and community continues.

There are some exciting updates to talk about with our facilities and other work going on in our organization:

• Our new bus facility has opened and is operational.

Located at 250 W. Courtland Ave., the new location of our transportation department is next to the Morton Fire Station. For many years, the transportation department has operated out of two different locations: offices located in Morton Junior High School and buses parked a few blocks away at Morton High School.

The moving of this facility addresses several concerns by opening up more parking at MHS, combining the operations of the transportation department into one location, removing the buses from a residential area, having much more room for bus parking, and not entering and exiting the bus lot onto a state highway.

We are proud to have collaborated with the Village of Morton to bring this project to fruition, and I offer my sincerest thanks to the Village Board, Mayor Rainson, previous Mayor Durflinger, Craig Lowdermilk and Jamie Bullard for their work with the Morton schools on this project.

Once we have some better weather and our transportation department gets moved in and settled into their new home, we will host an open house at the newest facility in our school district.

• The Facilities Advisory Committee wrapped up its focused mission after meeting seven times since August of 2013.

The charge to this group was to recommend two-three long-term facilities planning options to our Board of Education.

This dedicated group of 18 community members and school employees not only met together, but toured all of the Morton School District 709 buildings, toured buildings in four other school districts (Unit 5, Dunlap, Washington and Pekin), and poured over data, evidence and documents.

The recommendations coming forth from this group will be presented to the Board of Education March 4 at the District Office.

I’d like to thank all members of this group for their time and commitment to the process. While we did not always share the same viewpoints or agree on certain issues, the committee members were committed to “doing their homework,” listening to others and worked in a very efficient manner. Much was accomplished in six months.

The committee members are: Chairperson Mike Vlahos, Barb McMullen, Christopher Farris, Nicholas Jack, Brad Mitchell, Chris Carter, Lee Hoffman, Marjorie Johnson, Greg Prichard, Michael Saunders, Barb Getz, Troy Teater, Tom Neeley, Tim Taylor, Samantha McKee, Tony Feleccia, Bill Wright, Jeff Keach, Rodney Schuck and myself.

We had several community members attend our open meetings as well, Kevin Wilson being a particularly dedicated participant and attendee. Thanks to Mike Vlahos, parent and community member, for his extra and outstanding work in chairing this group.

• I would like to invite everyone to take a look at the report provided to the school district from CropperGIS.

This firm was retained to conduct a demography report and enrollment projection report. We recently heard from Dr. Jerome McKibben, the chief demographer from Cropper GIS, at our Feb. 4 Board of Education meeting, who provided an overview of their findings.

These reports are available online: go to the Morton District 709 website, click on “ABOUT,” and then click on “Facilities Advisory Committee.” The reports are located on this webpage, as well as a lot of other valuable information about the work of the FAC.

• The Morton High School heating system replacement project is on track to start immediately after school dismisses in late May.

Our community should plan on having no access to MHS over the summer, except to the Main Office, which will be relocated to the lobby of Bertha Frank Performing Arts Center. Over a year of planning has gone into this project, and we are looking forward to the work (and completion of the work!) this summer.

• Finally, how could I not talk about school closings? Thank you for your patience, understanding and flexibility as we progress through a very harsh and interesting winter. In addition, we’ll never forget that one of our school closing days was due to the tornado that struck Washington, Pekin, East Peoria and even parts of the Morton School District on Nov. 17.

I am sure everyone understands that a multitude of factors goes into the school closing decision, and at the top of the list is the safety of our students.

Hopefully, as of the writing of this column, we will have no more school closings and can finish out the 2013-14 school year in a consistent manner!

— Dr. Lindsey Hall is the superintendent of Morton District 709.