District 300 details work on projects

Behind-the-scenes planning explained

CARPENTERSVILLE – The work done behind the scenes that recently landed District 300 administrators and students at its alternative school new buildings cost $7,700, a smidgen of the $6.5 million total price tag for the projects.

Parents and residents from the Carpentersville-based school district were introduced to the complex moves weeks before board members formally approved the projects and design contracts on Feb. 24.

But district officials and board members started the groundwork back in October, directing contracted architects in closed meetings to investigate potential sites for the moves.

The district consequently paid Elgin-based Dewberry Architects $7,700 total for the initial research before the formal vote on Feb. 24 under a separate contract, according to district records obtained through a Freedom of Information request.

The shadowy nature of the work drew questions from a few parents and staff employees late last month concerned about transparency at District 300. But officials have said the work was done within the confines of Open Meetings law – partly thanks to a 2006 referendum voters approved.

“Discretion during this exploratory phase was crucial to securing the best possible pricing and making the most informed recommendation possible,” said district spokesperson Allison Strupeck.

The law allows board members to discuss potential real estate moves in closed session because of the “fluid, competitive and sensitive” nature of negotiations, she said.

The talks, Strupeck said, permitted Dewberry to test soils, investigate parking constraints and develop tentative budgets for the projects to help members determine whether to proceed.

The moves allow nearly 80 Oak Ridge School students to occupy a renovated administration building in Carpentersville by this coming fall and give administrators a new centralized office near Jacobs High School by early 2015.

Administrators will start moving to a temporary office at Hampshire High School during spring break later this month, as crews prepare to start construction on the $6.5 million projects in April.

Even though checks were paid to Dewberry, the district never needed formal board approval for the exploratory work, Strupeck said.

A “pre-existing contract” with Dewberry, instead, allows the architects to investigate any potential projects and assess whether the projects are viable options for the district, she said.

The district first used Dewberry under this contract in 2006, after voters approved a referendum that allowed District 300 to build multiple schools and fill its western boundaries.

Dewberry charged between $140 to $150 an hour to investigate options for the Oak Ridge and administration moves, records show.

“What’s important to understand is the work Dewberry did when we were investigating the potential relocation of Oak Ridge and the Central Office was separate and very different from the services the board approved on Feb. 24,” Strupeck said.

The board’s final vote on the project in late February allowed Dewberry to start developing detailed designs and blueprints necessary to start construction in April, she said.

Those design contracts could cost the district $477,860, officials estimated.

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