VERMILION — The Vermilion school district will have to pay $40,000 annually for interest on a loan, regardless of whether the school board decides to continue with its consolidation project.
Board member Dale Dawson expressed anger at a lack of oversight during the planning phase of the project.
“So we’re paying $40,000 a year for nothing because of a mistake?” Dawson asked the board during a special meeting Friday to discuss the project.
Board members were not notified that a proposed addition on the west side of Sailorway Middle School would be on a flood plain. The addition could be built at that location, but according to board members, it would be more costly and time consuming.
The board was asked how a mistake could have been made, given that auditor’s records show that the land has been designated a flood plain since 2008. Board President David Rice declined to place blame, but he became heated during discussions with former board member Tim Rini, who was working on plans with Lesko Architects, the company chosen for the project.
Rice accused the company of not offering the alternative in October to build the addition on the east side of Sailorway Middle School. The option was presented Friday as an alternative, but it would require tearing down several baseball and softball fields, something Dawson spoke out against.
“Those fields are the ones that are most used,” Dawson said. “Those are the ones that the taxpayers are still paying for.”
Dawson said to tear down the fields and move them to another location would be a waste of taxpayer money. The Sailorway Complex on Sailorway Drive, which includes five baseball diamonds, five tennis courts, a soccer field, basketball court and football stadium, is funded by the Vermilion Parks Board.
Dawson also criticized Lesko Architects for failing to obtain a survey of the land before presenting its plan to the board.
“The time wasn’t to find it when the shovel went into the ground,” he said. “The time was to find it before we borrowed a loan.”
According to Lesko, the company did not have any survey information prior to Dec. 7. A survey wasn’t requested until Oct. 24 and could not be done until mid-November.
The district’s initial project was estimated to be $20 million. With interest, Treasurer Amy Hendricks said in October that the district would pay approximately $35 million over a 25-year period.
New proposals to add additions to the high school are estimated to cost more than $6.6 million more annually in operating costs. The proposals are to add either a fifth- through seventh-grade addition or a kindergarten through third-grade addition to the high school.
The construction costs of each proposal are equal to or less than the initial proposal, with the exception of the fifth- through seventh-grade addition, which would cost approximately $5 million more.
Baseball fields would have to be moved in each of the plans, according to Lesko Architects.
Dawson questioned whether it would be smart to place kindergarten students in such close proximity to high school students, but Rice said he has received mostly positive feedback from the community.
“Some of the letters we’ve received were really supportive,” Rice said. “I don’t think anyone fears a ninth-grade kid beating up a third-grader.”
Rice reiterated that the facilities would be separate, sharing only a kitchen, and that the students would not be integrated.
The school board received support from former schoolteacher Terry Smith, who praised Lesko’s plans to add on to the high school. Two other men in attendance urged the board not to make a hasty decision, also suggesting that the board use the money saved on consolidation to compensate the Parks Board for the fields.
According to initial projections from Hendricks, the consolidation will save an average of $98,247 per year for a total savings of just under $2.5 million after paying off the principal and interest.
But Rice said he felt that the loan put the school board in “a very difficult situation” that may require the board to make a quick decision.
“We should not have voted for this project,” he said. “Not the way it is.”
The loan was used as a way to bypass proposing a bond issue. In 2011, a bond issue that would have raised $33 million for a similar project to renovate the school buildings was turned down by voters. Superintendent Phil Pempin said in October that the district’s “good financial standing” after a reinvention plan allowed the district to take out the loan.
On Friday, Hendricks warned the school board that it may need to go to the voters sooner or for more money in the future.
“It could be more, or it could be less,” she said. “We may have to find other cost-savings or find other types of savings to make the payments on time.”
Contact Chelsea Miller at 329-7123 or firstname.lastname@example.org.