ST. CHARLES – It appears that the incoming St. Charles District 303 School Board rather than the current board will decide what to do with Haines Middle School once its closes its doors at the end of the school year.
In 2016, the board approved a plan to upgrade Wredling Middle School, renovate Thompson Middle School and close Haines Middle School by fall 2019. Officials had said the district would save $2.4 million a year in operational costs by closing Haines and taxpayers would see a significant reduction in the district's portion of their property taxes because of the payoff of bonds in 2018.
Garrett Seaman, incumbent Board President Kathleen Hewell, Jillian Barker, Becky McCabe and Michael Bryant are running for three four-year terms on the board. In addition, Poonam Gupta-Krishnan and incumbent Board Vice-President Nicholas Manheim are running for an unexpired two-year term on the board. The election for the four seats on the District 303 Board of Education will take place on April 2.
School board members have been talking about what to do with Haines and took up the discussion again during the March 21 business services committee meeting.
"The decision will fall on a new board," said Manheim, chairman of the board's business services committee. "So I appreciate that there's a few candidates here tonight listening. I think that's important. But I feel like whoever is sitting here is going to have to bring in any new members up to speed so that it's not being pushed further and further down the line. I just think that's something to be conscious of. Certainly the board members that are not up for re-election, you carry the torch and all this hard work we've put in, keep it moving."
Hewell suggested the board vote before the new board members are seated in late April.
"I think we retain a real responsibility to see this through," she said. "That's my thinking."
The business services committee's next meeting is scheduled for April 25.
"I think we had another good discussion tonight and we will continue it at the next [meeting]," Manheim said.
School board members Carolyn Waibel and Heidi Fairgrieve had voiced concerns that a decision on what to do with Haines was being rushed.
"I think it's important that whatever board members are voted in, when they're voted in, they will have all the information that the current board has and then they can make an informed decision on that information," Waibel said after the meeting.
Board members are studying four different options for the building, with a cost ranging from $3.7 to $4.7 million. The district's programming needs include finding space for the district's college and career center (which includes both the district's transition program and the NorthEast Academy); growing and expanding the community preschool program; creating professional learning spaces for staff, parent and community education; creating a district board room and having a unified department of instruction office along with a unified district administration office.
The St. Charles Park District continues to voice interest in using a portion of the campus for its programs, such as the school's gym.
"I know they are clamoring for the space," Manheim said. "I think that's another big piece of it, too. It's not just going to be us."
The park district has budgeted funds to install restrooms in the hallway near the gym, school Superintendent Jason Pearson said.
"The restrooms in the basement are not usable without significant work," Pearson said. "We are thinking that will be converted into storage. They would like to put two restrooms in the hallway there. To do that, they think it's going to cost them about $150,000. That's what they budgeted. And they would want to have that done before they started using the space."
It would cost an estimated $1.5 million to raze the buildings on the Haines Middle School campus, Pearson told board members at the School Board's Feb. 21 business services committee meeting. He described the Haines campus as "a hodgepodge of buildings built between 1958 and 2003."
That includes three mobiles with eight classrooms each, Pearson said. The total size of the campus is 13.39 acres.