This time the check was really in the mail.

After a wait of 10 years, Brookfield-LaGrange Park District 95 on April 16 received a check from the state of Illinois’ Community Development Board for $3,119,368 – a grant that was supposed to be awarded years ago for capital improvements at the school.

Even though District 95 was near the top of the list of grant recipients, the state put off selling bonds to fund the grants. But now the money is in hand, and on Thursday the school board will begin trying to figure out how to spend the funds.

It’s money the district has to do with what they want,” said District 95 Superintendent Mark Kuzniewski. “They can continue to do renovation work that’s still needed [or] to pay down the bonds [sold in 2007 to fund improvements at Brook Park and S.E. Gross schools]. There’s really not a stipulation. It’s unrestricted.”

District 95 applied for a grant to fund a large capital project in 2003 and within a couple of years was near the top of a list of schools to receive the cash. But the state kept putting the grants off. Over the past couple of years, the district has continued to push for the funds, resubmitting its grant application and providing construction records to the state to prove that it had completed work that qualified for the grant.

“The trouble is the money never showed up,” said Kuzniewski.

The Illinois Community Development Board is a construction management agency that, according to its website, “oversees the construction of new state facilities,” such as prisons, university buildings, state parks and mental health hospitals.

In addition, the agency “administers grants for … renovation to local elementary and secondary schools districts.”

District 95, along with a host of other school districts, applied for grant funding in 2003. Among that group was Riverside-Brookfield High School, which was also reportedly high on the list of possible grant recipients last year.

RBHS is reportedly in line to receive $8.9 million in grant funding related to a major renovation and expansion project it completed several years ago.

With its money in hand, District 95’s school board will now begin to discuss how that money should be used. While the district has now completed two major capital projects since 2007, there’s still work to do. And while, $3.1 million is a lot of money, it could be used up very quickly on projects that won’t result in visible changes at
the schools.

“We’re very grateful for the $3.1 million, but it doesn’t solve our capital project problems,” said Kuzniewski.

The school board has already gotten estimates to upgrade electrical service at both schools — that line item alone is pegged at $750,000. The electrical upgrades are needed if the district wants to move ahead with improving and expanding the use of technology in its curriculum.

Even more expensive will be addressing the plumbing at both schools. Old galvanized steel pipes wind their way throughout both schools, and sections of the piping have begun to fail in recent years.

At Brook Park School alone in the past 14 months, said Kuzniewski, the district has spent between $75,000 and $100,000 to replace exposed hot water pipes. The pipes hidden behind walls and in pipe chases — both hot and cold — remain untouched.

Kuzniewski estimated that replacing the pipes at both buildings would cost the district in the vicinity of $2 million.

“We have some major things on the plumbing and electrical sides that’d eat up that $3.1 million in a heartbeat,” said Kuzniewski.

But the money could be used for other purposes as well, said Kuzniewski, like renovating classrooms at both schools or creating additional space at Brook Park School, where enrollment is close to capacity.

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