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Education

Downers Grove District 58 board discusses maintenance needs for aging facilities

Facilities in Downers Grove Grade School District 58 are showing their age, and the district has identified $75 million worth of repair and maintenance work over the next two decades to keep the buildings functional.
Facilities in Downers Grove Grade School District 58 are showing their age, and the district has identified $75 million worth of repair and maintenance work over the next two decades to keep the buildings functional.

DOWNERS GROVE – Facilities in Downers Grove Grade School District 58 are showing their age, and the district has identified $75 million worth of repair and maintenance work over the next two decades to keep the buildings functional.

“We want to make sure that they are safe, that they are clean, that we get the most value out of the facilities that we have,” Assistant Superintendent for Business David Bein told Board of Education members at an April 23 workshop meeting.

Bein said the district regularly performs preventive maintenance to keep the district’s 15 buildings in working order.

District 58 maintains 13 schools and two administrative facilities: the Longfellow Center, which was built as a school in 1928, and the district headquarters, built in 1975 for temporary use.

“You take a look at the age of our buildings and what you see are lots of numbers in the 50s and 60s,” Bein said.

At 49 years old, Belle Aire Elementary School is the district’s newest school. Whittier Elementary School, meanwhile, is 92 years old. Henry Puffer Elementary School is 82 years old.

“Our buildings are still functional and in great shape because of the great maintenance that we have done in this district for decades, but they still show their age,” Bein said.

The $75 million worth of projects mapped out over the next 20 years includes “needs, not wants,” such as electrical and plumbing projects, he said.

"It’s just stuff that we’ve got to do – ongoing maintenance," Bein said. "We need to engage in routine maintenance to make sure that [the buildings] last.”

The upgrades do not include enhancements such as new science labs, air conditioning or the retrofitting of the two middle schools to accommodate sixth-graders, Bein said.

“Over time, some wants may become needs,” said Bein, adding feedback garnered from the recent strategic plan should be considered in planning future projects.

The school board is expected to approve the strategic plan at its May 14 meeting.

Funding for building maintenance can come from three sources: existing fund balances, non-referendum debt or referendum debt, Bein said.

However, the district does not have sufficient fund balances to pay for the work. The district also can only incur and repay about $16 million in non-referendum debt over the next 25 years, he said.

Convincing voters to approve a bond referendum could be a difficult proposition, board members agreed.

“We’re going to have to make some hard decisions,” board member John Miller said.

Board member Elizabeth Sigale agreed.

“It’s not going to be easy, but it wasn’t for [Community High School] District 99 either,” Sigale said. “It will be hard if that is the path we decide to take.”

Voters in March approved District 99's referendum that will fund enhancements at both high schools.

Board members also discussed the possibility of selling the Longfellow Center, which currently houses district offices and provides meeting space.

“We got to make a decision on this building while it’s value is still real good," Miller said.

Superintendent Kari Cremascoli said the district would need to purchase or rent another space if the Longfellow Center were sold.

“We don’t have an equivalent space in the district," Cremascoli said.

This story has been updated from a previous version to correct the name of one of District 58's administrative facilities. District 58 maintains 13 schools and two administrative facilities: the Longfellow Center, which was built as a school in 1928, and the district headquarters, built in 1975 for temporary use.

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