DECATUR — More than three years have passed since the first meeting of the High School Task Force at Eisenhower High School in February 2009.

Its purpose was to decide what to do about Decatur’s aging public high school buildings and included students, parents, staff and the community.

On June 7, the first shovelful of dirt will be turned as the renovations begin. The groundbreaking will be at 11:30 a.m. that day and the public is invited.

Before that, a lot of other work is being and already has been done.

“It’s kind of a domino effect right now,” said Mike Sotiroff, director of buildings and grounds. “We have some movement in this office space. The book depository will move to the Professional Development Institute, so we can move storage out of the tech academy into our lower level to free up that space for the band room and the choral room for Stephen Decatur (Middle School).”

For everything to go smoothly, he said, it all has to work together in a particular order. Stephen Decatur will move to the former Decatur Area Technical Academy on Eldorado and Jackson streets. Eisenhower will move to Stephen Decatur. Furniture and equipment from Eisenhower will move to the tech academy, too, while Eisenhower will use Stephen Decatur’s furnishings, for the most part. Painting and remodeling are under way at the tech academy to get it ready. The Special Education Alternative Placement program will permanently move to Phoenix Academy, and the middle school Life Skills students will move to Thomas Jefferson Middle School, which also required remodeling and the addition of accessible bathrooms with changing tables.

“For the past six weeks or so, we’ve already been working on the remodeling of the second floor of the tech academy, making more classroom space,” Sotiroff said. “Currently, Heartland (Technical Academy) is still occupying the first floor of the tech academy, so I can’t do any work there until school is out.”

Most Heartland classes moved to Richland Community College this school year, but some remained downtown and will move to other locations until facilities at Richland are constructed to house them. The child care program will move to the Richland wing of Hope Academy in the fall, for example. The Macon-Piatt Special Education offices will remain where they are.

Project manager John Whitlock said he doesn’t expect traffic to be affected along 16th Street during the work on Eisenhower. With school out as of next week, and work confined to the school grounds, the construction shouldn’t cause any inconvenience.

“One of the biggest feats we have to pull off is being completely moved out of Eisenhower by the end of June,” Sotiroff said. “We’re trying to minimize the amount of furniture moving if possible.”

There is a master plan, he said, and all the affected principals and Superintendent Gloria Davis, along with the buildings and grounds department, have worked together to make that plan as efficient as possible.

The entire project, including renovations at MacArthur High School, is expected to be finished by January 2015. Eisenhower students should move back into their completely upgraded building in January 2014, and MacArthur students will move to Stephen Decatur until their building is finished.

Eisenhower will be renovated first because it needs the most work, Whitlock said, and in effect, it will be a brand-new school when it’s finished, inside and out. MacArthur will be thoroughly renovated, but more of the existing building will remain because it’s in better shape and needs less work.

Contracts were awarded at the May 8 school board meeting. Nicholas and Associates of Mount Prospect is the general contractor, and the various primary contractors for electrical, mechanical, plumbing, fire protection and technology are all Decatur companies.

One issue that arose prior to the awarding of contracts was the question of minority participation goals. The Decatur branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People objected when percentages were not in early drafts of the construction documents.

Construction documents all contain standard language and are meant to be edited to suit specific jobs, said Todd Covault, director of business affairs for Decatur schools. The basic documents do not contain language about minority business ownership or minority work force goals because that isn’t always a factor. The documents for the high school renovations have gone through repeated drafts and reviews before being finalized at the end of March for the Eisenhower portion of the project.

“All three aspects are in the contract,” Covault said. “We have female business enterprise, minority business enterprise — that’s about (business) ownership. We have the project labor agreement, which is the local union agreement, and we have work force goals in the contract. They’re separate sections of the contract and, each one refers to various exhibits.”

The Project Labor Agreement, for example, only creates a relationship between the district and local trades and labor. That portion of the overall document is the district’s agreement to use local union labor and those unions’ agreement to complete the work in a timely fashion with no strikes, stoppages or slowdowns.

Once the documents were complete and the goals were spelled out, including goals on specific job categories such as carpenters and plumbers, the NAACP was satisfied.

One way the district is ensuring that the highest number of local companies and workers are involved is by splitting the work into smaller chunks and using multiple primary contractors.

A single general contractor for the entire almost $80 million project would have to qualify and pay for a bond for that amount, Covault said. That would exclude almost all local contractors. By dividing the work, and thus dividing the bids, more contractors could cover the required bonds.

“The board will have contracts with the plumber, the electrician, the mechanical, and with each smaller piece of pie; there’s more potential for locals to be bonded to do the work. So it’s not the general contractor holding the bag, it’s these smaller groups. A lot of thought went into how this was designed.”

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