H-F finance committee stops plans for fine arts addition

The District 233 finance committee Monday decided not to move forward on a proposed fine arts addition at Homewood-Flossmoor High School.
 

Steve Anderson and Tim Wenckus said they could not support the project at this time. Jody Scariano, the finance committee chair, wholeheartedly supported the project.

“If it means still pushing us down the road next year or five years from now, we’re going to continue to make the recommendation because there’s just that need,” said Superintendent Von Mansfield. 
 

The construction project would include: Phase I – a black box theater, Phase II – a new wing for music programs and Phase III – a move for fine arts to a much larger space remodeled for its needs. The entire project was expected to cost around $12 million, but estimates were given for work to be done in phases. Phase I would cost between $3 and $3.5 million. 
 

The board has $8.5 million in capital reserves that could fund Phase I.
 

Anderson, who also serves as the school board president, said he remained in opposition because staff had failed to follow his instruction at a May 1 finance committee meeting to reduce school expenses by 1 percent to pay for the $190,000 architectural fees for Phase I. 

An initial look at the 2018-19 budget, being formulated now, found about $80,000.
 

“I asked for our operating expenses to be looked at, and for 1 percent non-personnel savings and come back to me. That’s specifically what I asked for. I couldn’t have been more clear,” Anderson said.
 

When Scariano asked if Anderson would reconsider his position and vote to move the project forward if he got a solid number by the end of the day on his 1 percent request, his response to her question was: “Why in a few hours will we be able to find something we weren’t able to find in the last two weeks? My request was ignored. I don’t feel valued as a member of the finance committee if my request is going to be ignored.”  
 

Member Tim Wenckus said he’s “recommending a hold for now” on the project because he still had concerns about actions the Illinois legislature could take that would have adverse financial impacts on the district. The state could shift teacher pension costs onto local districts, and a proposed two-year freeze in property taxes would mean a loss of approximately $800,000 annually.
 

Mansfield tried to reassure Wenckus that the district’s financial calculations have been very conservative and the district has kept to a board policy of a 10-month fund balance reserve to be able to cover any financial shockwaves.
 

Scariano spoke passionately saying there is a need and she was going to give 100 percent support to moving forward with a project the board has been considering since 2007 when improvements were first added to its long-range capital improvements plan.
 

“I think it’s important to move forward. It sends a message to the community,” Scariano said. “We have a need to serve the people who are here every day to get a job done with students, for parents and the community that have a huge impact. I think we need to go with the first phase. I think it’s sending a message that we’re not interested in fine arts. I’ve heard those comments.”
 

In 2010 the board was studying how it could create a specific academic program around the arts and looked at space needs. The board created the MVP Program (Media, Visual and Performing arts) in 2016 and accepted the first students into the program this year.
 

Tom Wagner, director of operations, said the 9,000-square-foot black box theater “is really, really needed. It’s not just wanted it’s needed.” Last week crews had to reset the stage in the Mall Auditorium three times for the band because it was sharing the space with other activities.

The H-F band has 200 members.
 

“Right now, we are in a bind with our programming. When the stage is used, it eliminates the needs of the other programs. Once the stage is locked with sets or rehearsals we are pretty much in a bind,” Wagner told the finance committee members.

“We can do nothing and stay the same, or start to chip away at putting together the physical space that the programming now requires. The goal may take a few years to accomplish with financial restraints and philosophies we have,” Mansfield said.

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