District 709 approves funding for health, safety work

Steve Stein GateHouse Media Illinois

District 709 School Board members April 21 approved $81,900 worth of “urgent” state-mandated health/life safety work in the Morton Education and Administration Center so students can continue to use the facility.

But not before board member Shaun Bill tore into the unnamed writer of an email sent to board members earlier in the day. The email criticized the board’s possible expenditure.

“Codes exist for a reason. One is to keep students safe. Does this person not remember what happened 60 years ago at Our Lady of the Angels School in Chicago?” Bill said.

A fire at the school Dec. 1, 1958, killed 92 students and three nuns and led to the state mandating that schools provide safe environments for students.

A health/life safety study of the MEAC was done earlier this year by Keach Architectural Design. Work deemed “urgent” by a study must be completed within a year.

“We’ve had students in the MEAC for several years,” said Superintendent Lindsey Hall. “Health/life safety studies (for buildings with students) are required every 10 years. This was the first one done at the MEAC. It should have been done sooner.”

The district moved into the MEAC on Feb. 19, 2008. Hall has been superintendent since July 1, 2012.

Low bidder Zobrist Construction will do the health/life safety work in the upper and lower levels of the south portion of the MEAC.

The project includes masonry, carpentry and electrical work and adds two new exit paths from the building, more fire alarms and

emergency lighting, and fire-rated doors and hardware.

Students use the area mainly for music practices and concerts.

The Life Skills room in the MEAC that has been used for several years by special education students is being moved this summer to Morton High School.

Additional health/life safety work is required to keep the Life Skills room in the MEAC. District administrators decided to move it to reduce expenses.

Health/life safety work is divided into three categories: “urgent,” “required” (must be done within five years) and “recommended.”

Hall said the “required” work in the MEAC carries a price tag of more than $1 million and will be included in future board discussions about facilities.

The board meeting room and district offices also are in the MEAC, which formerly was Grace Evangelical Church. It’s at 1050 S. Fourth Ave.

Also at the April 21 meeting:

• Hall said the state champion Morton High School boys golf and girls basketball teams were honored earlier in the day by the Illinois House of Representatives and met Gov. Bruce Rauner.

• The district honored retiring Morton Park District Director Gary Watson, who said the school and park districts have formed a partnership that works well “and serves the same kids.”