Money matters: Where is the grant money going?

Despite the additional 8.9 million dollars, work still needs to get done

Nick Cundari

Molly Cunningham, Staff Reporter

March is a complicated time in the life of Superintendent Kevin Skinkis, simultaneously trying to bring a multimillion dollar stadium renovation back under budget  and working to preserve as many educational opportunities for students as possible.

A surprise 8.9 million dollar capital improvement grant last year from the state of Illinois might seemingly make the job easier, but the truth is more complicated.

“I think it’s good for people to understand that $8.9 million should be used for capital improvements to facilities, and  repairs, and maintenance and not see those in the same bucket as educational programs or after school activities,” Skinkis said.

As registration finished in January, some classes that were offered, but which did not get the required 20 number of students to run, began to get cut.

“I wish that money was not an issue and that we could run every possible class regardless of its interest level, but we are not in a place to do that,” Skinkis said.  “So, we have to take student interest as well as core graduation requirements into consideration when dealing with staffing.”

The district is trying to lower the class sizes the core departments such as English, Math, Science, and Social Studies while trying to continue running courses that have high student interest level, while maintaining the balance.

“It’s tough to run a course, that maybe isn’t required for graduation or maybe is not aligned to a district goal, with 20 students and then asking all of our English teachers to have 32,” Skinkis said.

Skinkis said his goal for the amount of students in a class should be well under 30.  However the current reality is that low enrollment course may not run.  RB’s School of Environmental Education (SEE Team) was one such course this year.

“The attendance and participation in SEE Team has somewhat decreased over the last two years where it was getting to a point to where their class sizes were definitely smaller than a traditional algebra, English, or biology class,” Skinkis said. “We were trying to spread that equality around to manageable class sizes.”

While the district deals with economic woes, Skinkis and the administration is working to continue to do the best they can with the resources they currently have.

“In a perfect world, if we could sit with our classes between 23 and 27, that would be great,” Skinkis concluded. “Our finances can’t dictate that right now. So we are doing the best we can; I know [Principal Kristin] Smetana has worked with some of the Instructional Coaches for next year so we can lower some of the sophomore and junior class sizes in the core classes.”

Balancing the interior educational problems is only half the battle when currently the stadium renovation is reaching phase two and three of the project.

The specific stadium project has a current estimated price tag of $9.2 million, which is in a holding pattern while contractors begin to start bidding and while RB works with the Village of Brookfield on figuring out the storm water retention requirements and working on zoning for the new parking lot.

“We have to go through the zoning process with the Village of Brookfield,” Skinkis said. “The other thing is that we have not gone out to bid yet. You don’t really know the true cost of a project until you put it out to bid and a bunch of contractors have an opportunity to put a number with it.”

The plans for the stadium have been scrutinized for being too expensive; however, the cost of the new turf and track, which are past warranty and need to be replaced, the locker room, tennis courts, which were budgeted with the life safety work, and the bleachers are not the most expensive part of the project.

“The thing that was identified during that process is a lot of the budget will be spent on things that people can’t really see or use because there is a lot of work that needs to take place underground  with improving the stormwater retention and the drainage issues and with repairing the tennis courts and moving those things,” Skinkis said.

Skinkis knows that putting money into less visible improvements may cause some perception problems.

“Someone will see new bleachers and be like, ‘Oh, those are so expensive,’” he said, “But that’s not even the big ticket item. It’s having to clean up the electric or change out the stuff that’s 30 years old.”

Despite the criticism from the community, the project is still moving forward and Skinkis is hopeful that bidding will be completed by the end of this month to get an accurate picture of the price. In addition to the work that needs to be completed with the stadium, the true capital improvement of the parking lot is still a priority and will also try to be finished during phase three of the project.

“Anybody that has attended RB or come back to RB for an event that night knows parking is a premium,” Skinkis said.  “So the board is trying to fix problems that have plagued this district for a long time. It would be short sighted to not try to address issues that have plagued the district for a long time, especially when we are paying $34,000 a year to rent parking between the Village and the Zoo.”

The deadline for the projects and the completion of phases two and three are supposed to be done by the fall sports season.

“It’s just a process; it’s a process we have to go through,” Skinkis explained. “Right now, one of the concerns I have is will the stadium be completed on time so that fall athletics’ seasons will be able to participate for home events.”

However, what’s currently happening with spring sports?

“Spring sports already knew that they were going to be off site,” Skinkis said.  “With the delay, there are obviously no bleachers so we will not be hosting any contests but they might be able to have a couple practices on campus. The other thing we have to take in consideration is we have to have our architect and construction manager review the site to make sure it’s not dangerous for even practicing. There might be some holes or things. So the spring sports season were already aware that they were going to be off site.”

Even though nine million dollars is a large sum, it was never going to be enough to fully address all of the life safety projects that need to be completed around the school, in addition to the true capital improvements.

“A life safety study and capital improvement study done by the architect had a total of about 12 million dollars worth of work between the stadium, tennis courts,  the bleachers in the main gym, bleachers in the pool, the roof, and other miscellaneous work so that the 12 million is between both sides of the campus,” Skinkis said.  “The idea is to spread that $8.9 million out as far out as we can to address as many issues as possible.”