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Tuscola BOE discusses possible new high school

By Kendra Hennis  
The board retreat of the Tuscola school board was called to order at 6 p.m. on June 22. Mr. Marx was absent from the meeting. The purpose of the retreat was for the board to come together and talk about what they observed when they went on walk-throughs through each of the Tuscola schools and asked questions to the administrators.  

The board unanimously agreed that while addressing that there are some problems at North Ward and East Prairie, the high school is in the biggest need of an upgrade. Some of the problems presented were the outdated sports facilities, classrooms, science labs, theater, and just overall problems with the flooring, classrooms, and ceilings. Mr. Ingram presented the possibility of an entirely separate structure from the high school, with the possibility of it also having some sort of community purpose. The board hopes to communicate further with the City Council as well as the Chamber of Economic Development Committee.

Mr. Spillman proposed the idea that it may just be time to build a new high school. He would like to get an architect into the school to evaluate if the bones are good and have the possibility of restoration and redesign. He also presented the possibility of tearing off the back of the high school and expanding onto it. The board agreed that currently, the school is doing nothing to attract new students and families to the school. Mr. Devlin noted that he would like to provide the opportunity for people to walk through the schools. Mr. Alexander noted that this is the usual process, and that the overall process will be longer and need a referendum.  

North Ward Principal Jason Wallace noted that some of the problems at North Ward included needing new tiles, a new roof, and painting classrooms. Former East Prairie Principal Carol Munson told the board that some problems at the middle school included the need for a better meeting space, an electrical grade upgrade, modernizing the auditorium, and some cosmetic upgrades. 

Looking at the high school, TCHS Principal Steve Fiscus stressed to the board that it was important that we give students and families a reason to come to Tuscola. As for the needs of the school, the athletic facilities need upgraded, as well as, science labs upgrades, classroom upgrades, a new theater, new locker rooms, and structural problems fixed, like ceiling cracks, flooring, and lockers. 

Tuscola Athletic Director Ryan Hornaday began by thanking the board for their interest in taking on this project, saying that it was very important to him and the community. He noted that while the building was once a premier building, over the last 60 years it has aged a lot. Hornaday said that facility does not match the community pride in Tuscola. He said that a lot of the things at the school are good enough, and polished up to look nice, but he has a wish list of the things the school can do to make it the best in the area. 

Due to time constraints, the board adjourned at 7:01 p.m. with Mr. Spillman noting that the board would need to schedule another meeting to discuss further plans. 

The budget hearing of the Tuscola school board was called to order on June 25 at 5 p.m. All board members were present with Mr. Marx joining in online. 

The meeting began with Superintendent Gary Alexander talking to the board about the amended 2019-2020 budget. He noted that the budget was done in May, and was open to public review. He added in some expenditures such as the financial software and adding the Title money in, but otherwise no major changes were made. The board had no questions and there was no public comment. 

The board adjourned the budget hearing section of the meeting at 5:04 p.m. 

The special board meeting of the Tuscola school board was called to order at 5:05 p.m. on June 25 with Mr. Marx joining in online. 

Following approving the consent agenda and moving to closed session, the board moved onto the new business of discussing the board retreat process from the June 22 meeting. 

Mr. Spillman said that the board needs more time to properly develop a plan of what they would like to do moving forward with the high school. He created a timeline for the board in order to create a resolution and referendum, since the town will need to vote on the plans. Spillman would also like to have to have survey questions ready to send out into the community for them to approve at the July meeting for them to send out. He hopes to have all community input in by August for them to send to the architect. From there, the architect can hopefully have plans ready for them for the September meeting that they can review and finalize by October. In October the plans can be put out for public review and then reviewed in November as well as a resolution will be ready to be published. He hopes that by December the resolution will be finalized and ready to put on the ballot for the April election. Spillman noted that his timeline left a lot of time for public comment and review, as well as plenty of time for the board to meet additionally. He also said that he would like to get some pictures taken of the inside of the school, highlighting some of the issues so that they can be easily viewed by the community. 

Mr. Alexander stressed the need for the board to communicate. As well as, some of the issues that the board may face in their hopes of building a new school. He noted that the community is really attached to the school, and there may be some struggles faced in trying to demolish it, especially if the bones of the school are still in good shape. He also told the board that they may face some issues in trying to pass the legislation needed, as sometimes these projects take a couple of tries. Alexander said that he would like to explore all of the possible options and see what is best for the school. He said that he was going to get in contact with the architect so they could try to complete an evaluation to bring to the July meeting. He also said that the architect would need to sometime complete a health, life, and safety review for the school and that those problems would be taken into account as well. 

The board also:

* Approved the Amended 2019-2020 budget. 

* Approved moving to closed session to discuss 5 ILCS 120/2 (c) (1) 

* Approved the hiring of Melissa Sanders as Special Education Teacher at North Ward. 

* Adjourned at 5:49 p.m. until the July 27 board meeting.

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