H-F finance committee puts off arts additions until at least 2019

Additions for the Fine Arts department at Homewood-Flossmoor High School will not be happening for at least another year. The District 233 finance committee voted 2-1 Friday, May 25, not to approve any work. 
 
After the committee failed to give the project the green light at its May 14 meeting, more than 200 students, faculty and community members attended the school board meeting May 15 raising their voices in support of the fine arts.
 
The proposal called for all the arts programs to be in one wing. To accommodate this, two additions would be built onto the South Building – Phase I for performing arts, Phase II for the music programs. Phase III would relocate the visual arts program in space now occupied by music. 
 
The initial plan called for starting construction in September, but without a finance committee recommendation for funding to the full board, no work will be approved.
 
“These are needs, not wants. They don’t go away,” Superintendent Von Mansfield told committee members. He urged the committee to consider the project as something that will be in use for many years, saying H-F is known for doing things “the right way.”  
 
But knowing the pushback the project had received at the previous two finance committee meetings, the superintendent said it was his “strong recommendation” to do Phase I. Principal Jerry Anderson said the space could be utilized by all school groups, not just the arts.
 
“That first piece is the center piece for everyone,” he said. “That’s one that has to be done, no matter which option you choose.”
 
That project, commonly referred to as a black box theater, is estimated at $3.5 million. The district has $8.5 million in reserves.
 
Member Jody Scariano supports the project and was ready to move forward with Phases I and II, although she could agree to start with Phase I construction. 

"This is a value for the people who walk through the halls every day. I'm passionate about this project. We need to move forward," Scariano said saying the arts programs "have gone from good to great" and added: "This is going to be very, very important to our community."
 
Members Steve Anderson and Tim Wenckus stressed their support for fine arts. They said approving Phase I would not be helping all the groups, and the district didn’t have the money to complete all the improvement needs for band, orchestra, choral, theater and visual arts.

"I want something that touches everybody,” Wenckus said, and reminded those present that "today we’re talking about the 'how' (to finance) rather than the 'what' that we need."
 
“If we’re hamstringing ourselves and not able to address other needs in all of the fine arts then I don’t want to be for that. I think we can do better,” Anderson said. “What that looks like, I have no idea. Maybe it doesn’t start with the black box, I don’t know. Maybe we can do other things. “

Several parents who support the band program addressed the board saying space limitations need to be addressed. They felt the band program, with more than 200 members, should get the first addition.

“Music is bursting, yet all we get is a black box,” said parent Peter Hallam to the suggestion the board start with Phase I.

Wenckus said he wanted to "play down the perception of divisiveness. This sort of scrutiny is how we get things done here at H-F.  I don’t think you want yes, yes, yes all the time. In this instance, I think we’re out front on the steps that came to promote the project and now the steps to come to a financial decision."

Because of the board’s cost concerns, Ed Wright of DLA Architects presented a revised plan at the meeting. The pricetag dropped from an estimated $12.5 to $14 million to $10 to $11.4 million by keeping visual arts where it is and building the program an addition for more space. Some changes would also be made to the music wing.

Sarah Whitlock, director of the band program, said space is the essential element to this plan. She has one class with 60 students in it and said the overcrowding is becoming a serious issue. Given a choice of something or nothing, Whitlock said she could support the revised plan, but said the first plan was really ideal “because it integrated all the needs” of the program. 
   
The original plan presented in September 2017 also called for giving the visual arts space to Applied Academics. Should visual arts not move, Wright suggested the board consider converting a little-used weight room in South Building for Applied Academics. With its high ceilings, it could accommodate machinery.
 
Anderson and Wenckus said staff needed more time to review the revision to give the board feedback. They are willing to wait on the project to give it more study. With the capital reserve fund at around $8.5 million, Wenckus said it would take the board seven to 10 years to save enough money to get to the original projected cost of $12 to $14 million. 
 
And Wenckus is still concerned about Illinois legislative proposals to shift teacher pensions onto local districts. For District 233 that would be $1.7 million, money that would otherwise go into the capital reserve fund to pay for the arts additions and other improvements.
 

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