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DECATUR – Decatur schools and BLDD Architects have agreed to work toward fixing problems with heating, air conditioning and ventilation units at Eisenhower and MacArthur high schools.

The architecture firm behind the massive renovation of Decatur’s two public high schools agreed to pay $25,000 to retrofit two heating and cooling units in each building and test whether an additional feature will solve issues with too much humidity in classrooms.

The Decatur school board approved the retrofit agreement during its meeting Tuesday, along with another agreement that delays the deadline for Decatur schools to pursue litigation against BLDD. The extension allows the architect and district more time to make sure the HVAC systems work as intended.

“This means we keep talking,” said Superintendent Paul Fregeau, adding that district leaders hope to avoid pursuing litigation.

A representative for BLDD did not appear at the meeting. District spokeswoman Maria Robertson said questions for the firm should be directed to Eugene Hanses, an attorney with Robbins Schwartz, based in Collinsville, who declined to comment when reached by phone Tuesday.

Problems with the heating and cooling units have been evident since 2014, when buildings and grounds Director Mike Sotiroff said the units were the wrong size for the rooms. Rooms were always too hot or too cold, he said.

Data taken while classrooms are occupied show that the rooms' temperatures are cool, but humidity is too high, resulting in discomfort in a learning environment, according to school district documents.

The units were designed without “hot gas reheat,” a feature designed to control humidity. BLDD agreed to pay $25,000 to the district for costs associated with the installation and testing of two units in each building that would include the missing feature. The units were tested once before school started and are being tested again with students in the buildings. If results are good, retrofitting can be started on the rest of the 130 units.

Who will pay for that work is part of the ongoing discussion, Fregeau said.

The $76 million high school renovations were proposed in 2009. Funding came from a 1 percent education sales tax that Macon County voters approved in November 2010. Eisenhower reopened for students in January 2014, and MacArthur’s work was completed in spring 2015.

Past problems with the renovated buildings include:

  • Moisture seeping up through the flooring in the lower level at Eisenhower High School, requiring the flooring to be taken up and replaced
  • Water standing on the track and football field, also at Eisenhower, due to improper drainage that caused a “gully wash,” according to project manager Phil Hazenfield. A new swale corrected the problem.
  • A delivery driveway was in the wrong location, making it difficult for trucks to reach the loading dock. A new driveway was placed in the proper location.
  • Tuckpointing at MacArthur High School that didn't fit into the original renovation budget and had to be put off until 2016

In other business, Chief Operational Officer Todd Covault gave the presentation on the tentative 2017-18 budget, which has more questions than answers because state lawmakers have yet to approve a school funding plan.

House Speaker Michael Madigan canceled a scheduled an Illinois House session for today at which lawmakers were set to vote on Gov. Bruce Rauner's veto of a school funding bill. The Chicago Democrat said he canceled today's House session so that legislative leaders can continue negotiations on a compromise.

The override of an amendatory veto of legislation which changes the way the state pays for schools needs 71 votes. It would nix the changes Rauner made and put into law a new funding model.

Democrats who control the legislature sent Rauner a plan that ensures no school district gets less than it did last year. Then it funnels new money through an "evidence-based" model to the neediest schools first.

Rauner says it unfairly favors Chicago over the rest of the state. He rewrote it with an amendatory veto. The Senate voted to override Aug. 13.

Covault said his office had to estimate state funding levels based on last year because there is no other information available, and the tentative budget will be updated when revenues are known. State law requires schools to have a budget in place by the end of September.

The school board will vote on the tentative budget after a public hearing Sept. 26, with or without the state revenue figures, if none are available by then.

Fregeau also asked the board for discussion and direction on several initiatives proposed by the previous board, including: facilities proposals of building a new school and closing Johns Hill and Durfee magnet schools, housing both of those programs in the proposed new building; moving sixth grade to middle school, installing air conditioning in all district buildings, pursuing International Baccalaureate status for Hope Academy; and considering creating K-8 buildings in the district.

The process to create a new strategic plan for the district will get under way at the end of August and is expected to take until spring to complete, but several of those initiatives will require study and data before decisions can be made.

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Education Reporter

Education reporter for the Herald & Review.

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