By Bob Skolnik
If it's hot in September, kids and teachers at Brook Park School in LaGrange Park and S.E. Gross Middle School in Brookfield will no longer have to sweat it out.
That's because the Brookfield-LaGrange Park District 95 Board of Education gave the go-ahead at its April 11 meeting to install air conditioning this summer at the district's two schools.
The air conditioning is expected to cost about $1.4 million, but that money is available because the district has not had to use any of its contingency fund on the renovation and expansion project at Brook Park and S.E. Gross schools, and the project is coming in well under budget.
In 2017, voters approved issuing $20 million in bonds and that, together with an additional $15 million in reserves, has been funding the construction work that has been going on all year at Brook Park and S.E. Gross.
Now with that work nearing completion and district officials confident that there will be no costly surprises ahead, they are shelling out the money for air conditioning and additional upgrades. The district had a contingency fund of about $1.2 million and has saved about $2.8 million due to good planning and fortunate pricing.
Superintendent Mark Kuzniewski praised Rich Batka, the district's director of buildings and grounds, and Maintenance Technician Ken Ramski for taking contractors through tunnels at S.E. Gross last year, allowing them to get a good look at the innards of the building. That allowed contractors to know what they were getting into, resulting in lower bids for trades work.
Board members agreed that installing air conditioning was worth the cost, since the money is there to pay for it.
"I believe we should do what's best for our students, our teachers and our community," said school board President Michelle Maggos.
The air conditioning will be installed this summer. The district expects to get a good price on the air conditioning, because of the ongoing construction and because of electrical upgrades done six years ago. Prices are projected to only increase in the future.
"This price is about as good as you're going to get," Matt Leibing, an executive vice president for Executive Construction Inc., the district's construction manager, told the school board.
Leibing said that adding air conditioning now will save the district between $40,000 to $70,000 because construction is still ongoing.
It is projected to take about 10 weeks this summer this install the variable refrigerant flow (VRF) system, and the air conditioning is expected to ready to go by the time school starts on September 3. Currently, only the libraries and offices at the two schools are air conditioned.
The district also has money for other upgrades not in the original plans, such as adding new wireless 70-inch smartboards in all Brook Park classrooms, installing a new floor for the old Brook Park gym and buying new, more flexible furniture for classrooms at Brook Park.
Plans also call for resurfacing the teacher parking lot at S.E. Gross. However, because of the work this summer to install the air conditioning, the parking lot work will have to wait until summer 2020.
Kindergarten through fourth-grade classrooms at Brook Park will get new wireless touch-screen smartboards, where students can write on the boards directly or from their own devices. Fifth-grade classrooms will get wireless smart boards without touch screens.
"They'll do all their writing from their own device and cast it to the board," Kuzniewski said of the fifth-graders.
In all the classrooms, teachers will no longer be tethered to projection devices but rather will be able to project images to their smartboards from wherever they have a device.
"They can really be working and projecting from anywhere in the classroom and so can kids," Kuzniewski said. "They don't have to be connected to a cord or anything like that."
The seating in all Brook Park classrooms will be transformed with new with more flexible furniture, replacing the traditional rows of desks. Some of new chairs will have soft surfaces.
"It looks very untraditional. We don't have 30 desks in a row anymore," Kuzniewski said. "We have some children, for example, who need to be able to rock back and forth in their chair, need to be able to turn the chair around and sit comfortably, sit to the side. The chairs are designed to be sat in in multiple ways."
This is all designed to create a comfortable and flexible classroom to accommodate group learning and the different learning styles of children.
"Everything is movable," Kuzniewski said. "It really will bring us further along with how we engage students in learning."
The total cost for the new display boards will be around $185,000, the new gym floor at Brook Park will cost about $120,000 and the district is expected to pay about $325,000 in additional fees for construction management and other costs related to the installation of the air conditioning system and other additional work.
The district is also spending an additional $20,000 to purchase new furniture designed for structured play time in kindergarten classrooms to accommodate the debut of full-day kindergarten in September.