By Bob Skolnik
Spurning the initial recommendation of Superintendent Carol Baker, the Lyons School District 103 Board of Education voted 4-0 at a special meeting on Aug. 1 to hire Yorkville based Midwest Environmental Consulting Services to check its buildings for asbestos and create an asbestos management plan for the school district.
The review comes as the school district is facing fines totaling as much as $20,000 from the Illinois Department of Public Health for faulty record keeping and a lack of regular inspections for asbestos.
The board chose Midwest Environmental over Hinsdale-based K-Plus Engineering Services, a firm that has made two small contributions in recent years to campaign funds controlled by Lyons Village President Christopher Getty.
A proposal to hire K-Plus to assist the district in preparing a response to the Illinois Department of Public Health allegations and to bring the district into compliance was part of the agenda for the July 24 regular school board meeting.
But, the board at that time decided to postpone the vote on the matter and seek a proposal from Midwest after Lyons resident Toni Parker criticized K-Plus's qualifications in an extensive public comment. At the July 24 meeting, board member Joanne Schaeffer suggested getting a proposal from Midwest, which has an extensive history working for the district.
After meeting for about 45 minutes in closed session last week, the four school board members at the meeting voted unanimously to hire Midwest. The three members of the school board who were elected in 2015 with the support of Lyons Village President Christopher Getty — Michael Bennett, Jorge Torres and Colleen Shipbaugh — did not attend the special meeting.
Midwest's work is expected to cost the district at least $58,500. K-Plus's initial proposal came in much lower, at just under $30,000, but did not include any sample collection and testing.
Once the district obtained more information about how much K-Plus would charge for testing samples it turned out the two companies' bids were very close.
"Once you added in that cost, there is really no difference," said board member Shannon Johnson.
The four board members present decided they were more comfortable with Midwest.
"They have worked in our district, they are familiar with it," Schaeffer said. "We are kind of in a pinch. We need to get going on this work. They know exactly where every building is. And I think that they have a lot of the paperwork that they're going to be able to go back and draw on in order to proceed with the work."
Parker, who worked as a research chemist and has a background in industrial health and safety, gave the board members a handout that indicated Midwest's total cost would be only about $900 more than K-Plus's cost, once testing was included.
Parker added that Midwest's cost per building was lower, because it proposed testing nine buildings, including the George Washington Middle School Annex and the now vacant Legion Building, while K-Plus proposal called for only testing six school buildings and the administration building.
If K-Plus tested all nine buildings, its total cost would be about $6,500 more than Midwest's estimate, Parker said.
School board President Marge Hubacek said Parker's analysis was helpful.
"It gave us a bit to think about, and we got help from our attorneys with additional questions," Hubacek said. "It brought up some points. I think that Toni certainly brought some more information to light. I think it played a role."
Parker said that Midwest has more licensed asbestos inspectors on staff and that K-Plus would have needed to contract out the inspection work.
"I'm happy that the board took the time to look at the cost-comparative business case study and also to consider that Midwest's staffing was much deeper and that they had all the licensed professionals needed to complete the work required," Parker said.
K-Plus was hired by the district in March and paid $968 to test air quality and air ducts in the administration building after a late-night remodeling project in February kicked up so much dust that the fire alarms went off and there were fears that asbestos might have been released.
The incident led the Illinois Department of Public Health to review the district's compliance with laws and regulations regarding asbestos. At the time, Schaeffer suggested calling in Midwest to test the area for asbestos.
In 2016 K-Plus contributed $500 to Citizens for Christopher Getty, and in 2015 K-Plus gave $200 to the United Citizens Party, which lists Getty as its chairman and treasurer, and runs candidates in Lyons village elections.
Board members hope that the review by Midwest will help the district in its case with the Illinois Department of Public Health.
"We're hoping by showing good faith by becoming compliant that they lessen some of those fines," said board member Shannon Johnson.