As published in the Thursday, November 30, 2023 Franklin County Gazette:

     While looking up at the Christmas Decorations going up on Main Street the past few weeks, there was one more curiosity added to the local skyline – a crane over Frankfort Community High School. It was not there to put a new ornament up, but instead was part of a repair of a portion of the roof as the building marks its 103rd year of service to the community.

     Previous Boards of Education had approved a plan to replace the entire roof over time. In 2008, the portions over the classroom “U” were replaced. Unfortunately, after the State of Illinois faced financial pressures and pro-rated school funding through 2017, plans to replace portions over Paschedag Auditorium, the stage, and areas over the first floor restrooms were delayed. That was just one of many delayed maintenance issues that the local school district has fought over the past decade and a half in its four school buildings.

     After the State passed the Evidence-Based Funding Formula into law early in the fall semester of 2017 that stabilized operating expenses, District 168 set out to address delayed maintenance, keep students in the dry as several roofs moving past the 20-year-old mark and their warranties, and update ventilation systems that were entering their second and third decades of service. The Board at that time also began to look at options to renovate, add, and construct facilities to improve FCHS.

     With the passage of the State Capital Construction legislation in the spring and summer of 2019, state funding has gone towards highway, bridge, and other public construction over the past several years. Educational facilities were supposed to be another one of the phases to become eligible as the calendar turned to 2020. The district sold bonds that left property tax rates as flat as possible and received a Maintenance Grant from the state to begin the work, with the replacement of the original HVAC system at Central Junior High School first on the list. The district only had enough money to replace one unit.

     Then, indoor air quality became even more important as the Pandemic struck. The one silver lining of the pandemic for the school district was the money that came from the federal government. It paid not only for cleaning supplies, mobile technology, one-to-one Chromebooks for students to use, after-school programs, summer school programs, and instructional materials, it also paid for renovations to the district’s school buildings to make them healthier environments for learning.

     The district now had some funds to invest in facilities to allow them to help serve students as it looks 20 to 25 years into the future. CJHS, opened in 1978, had a completely new HVAC system and roof installed. Denning Elementary, opened in 1971, received a new HVAC system that included air-conditioning in the gymnasium/cafeteria for the first time.

     As the district moves forward, it still has several big projects to complete. The Board of Education was made aware that after the replacement of HVAC at Denning, its roof now needed replaced. There were also some issues to address at Frankfort Intermediate School, that has already passed its 20th  birthday, as well as potential restroom upgrades planned in other buildings. With that in mind, a bond issue of up to $3 million to be supported by the School Facilities Sales Tax already collected in Franklin and Williamson Counties was approved by the Board in August.

     Unfortunately, the parts of the FCHS roof that were installed in 1988 that were slated for replacement over a decade ago, began to fail by pulling away from the sides of the walls. To keep water from causing even more damage to plaster and the original wood deck, this project suddenly moved to the top of the list. While the district continues to wait for the major level of funding that a State Capital Construction Grant would bring when it becomes available, the high school has to be maintained. So, the Board advertised and accepted a bid for $327,131 from DE Martin Roofing at their regular, October meeting. That work began at the start of November with the arrival of the crane and is slated for completion by the end of the month. This should give FCHS some additional time while it works with other school districts to persuade the state to fund school construction.

     With funds available from its latest bond, the district is now letting bids to replace the roof at Denning and potentially for a portion of FIS for the summer of 2024. It will continue to pursue funds to invest in its facilities to improve the student experience in the years to come.

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