School board officials remained split last week over a choice between two architecture firms vying to develop a Master Facilities Plan for Riverside Elementary School District 96.

The school board faces a host of life-safety and ADA accessibility issues at its five schools. In addition, with enrollment continuing to crowd classrooms, the school board is also pondering ways to accommodate students.

The discussion comes two weeks before a formal vote, which is expected to take place at the board’s Oct. 19 meeting.

Just prior to their deliberation at a committee of the whole meeting on Oct. 5, the board received a report by David Sellers, interim director of finance and operations, detailing a district-wide list of possible renovation projects, including high-priority items like replacing old sections of roofing at Blythe Park Elementary School. 

The roof project at Blythe Park, at an estimated cost of $450,000, is the most expensive single project on the list, which ranks projects from high priority to low priority, spanning a three-year period.

With several of the district’s buildings more than eight decades old and one dating to the 19th century, the project tracking list Sellers provided to the school board last week includes more than two dozen items related to ADA-accessibility.

Because summer breaks provide the most convenient construction opportunities, Sellers stressed the board should settle on a firm to conduct a Master Facilities Plan as soon as possible, to avoid missing an opportunity for getting work donw during the summer of 2017. 

“No matter who we choose here,” board member Rich Regan said. “If we don’t give them a clear direction, we’re spinning our wheels.”

Randy Brockway, another board member, asked other board members to define the master plan’s purpose and mentioned the possibility that the school board elections next spring could upset any long-term planning by the board. Four board members’ terms, including board President Jeff Miller, are up in April 2017. 

“There are a lot of master plans that are developed over time,” Brockway said. “And they sit on shelves.”

Other board members stressed that the long-term planning was important to begin addressing now. 

“Is it addressing space needs?” Regan said. “To me, that’s sort of the top of the list.”

Board member Shari Klyber brushed aside concerns of board turnover. 

“That’s the point of the plan,” Klyber said. “No matter who is here, the district has a goal of what the community wants.” 

Superintendent Martha Ryan-Toye also downplayed the possibility that a new board would come in and simply shelve a master plan. Nor does it mandate a schedule a school board has to adhere to strictly. What it does is provide guidance for the future.

“I don’t think there’s anything magical to it. I think it’s long-range planning,” Ryan-Toye said. “What can we afford to bite off and do now?” 

Other members agreed, highlighting the advantage of a Master Facilities Plan was looking at the district’s buildings in a holistic way. 

“Our enrollment goes up and we just keep making these on-the-fly decisions,” board member Rachel Marrello said. “It would be nice for future boards to say ‘This is what we are thinking and this is why.'”

Among the three firms responding to a request for qualifications that the district issued in August, board members clearly favored the two firms — DLA Architects and Legat Architects — with prior working relationships in the community. 

Legat is District 96’s current architect of record and DLA has completed several projects at Riverside-Brookfield High School where it is the architecture firm of record. ARCON Associates is the third firm up for consideration.

While some members said both Legat and DLA gave solid presentations, the choice was clear to some board members. 

“Legat had a fantastic presentation,” Regan said. “In my mind, Legat is edging out.”

Klyber, on the other hand, said she was leaning toward DLA.

“I like DLA’s aesthetic better,” Klyber said. “They were more focused on what happens in the classroom.”

Several board members asked for assurances from the firms that the architects involved in the presentations would be part of the team compiling the Master Facilities Plan and said cost considerations were an important factor to consider. 

For now, according to Miller, there are no plans to solicit community input on which firm to hire, apart from informal conversations with constituents, something a few board members say they have already done. The board will, however, reach out to the community in planning future projects. 

 “There is a benefit to planning but it has to be focused,” Miller said. “That’s why we have these discussions.”

This story has been changed to clarify board President Jeff Miller’s comments on seeking community input in planning future projects.