School district wants opinions on geothermal plan

Lisa Hammer

 The weak economy has prompted the Cambridge superintendent and school board to set a late August open house to let residents weigh in on a $1.5 million geothermal system for the grade school.

 The district could serve coffee and doughnuts at the Saturday, Aug. 29, open house and inform people about district goals and facilities, according to Superintendent Tom Akers.

 Akers said the summer is “burning away,” and he cited unemployment news as cause for concern. The state’s preliminary May unemployment figure was 10.1 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.

 “With the economy the way it is, obviously I’m concerned with spending $1.5 million. This is a big chunk at this time,” he said. “I think people are hurting.”

 He said residents could come to the open house and get information on the project and see the boiler at the high school.

 “Before we make such a big commitment with our neighbors’ money, we should give them that forum,” he continued.

 Board president Steve Evans said he remained committed to the entire proposal, but felt it was good to be sure the board decision represents the community.

 “I think it’s a good proposal. It’s good for the school and I intend to support it,” he said. “It’s a significant cost savings and you just don’t walk away from it. I think we want to proceed and I think we will eventually.”

 “I’d like people to be able to say, ‘I was there the 29th and I saw what they are talking about,’” he added.

 Board member Mary Richter said although she understood the reason for slowing down, she saw the work as necessary. “If there’s any way at all, long-term, I think it’s the right thing to do. I wish we could do it at both buildings,” she said.

 The board did, however, vote 7-0 to move forward with one energy-efficiency project to install occupancy sensors throughout both buildings as well as both sensors and retrofitted lighting that doesn’t take as long to heat up in both school gyms, estimated to cost $90,000. The money could come from TIF reimbursement from the village, which has to be used for building projects. Akers said it would mean fewer other building projects such as carpeting, but he thought it was worthwhile. 

 When Richter asked for assurance that occupancy sensors will save money, a representative from ESG responded that the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity wouldn’t offer a rebate if it didn’t.

 In other school board news, Akers distributed a spreadsheet showing a positive balance in eight funds with an overall surplus of $38,647 for the year.

 He said the final result will depend on what the state does with the final payments between now and June 30, however.

 He said the last five state aid payments to Cambridge in 2009 were made with federal stimulus money, and he’s hoping stimulus money allows the state to come through with final categorical payments due  by June 30.

 Cambridge will also receive $100,000 in direct federal stimulus money. Half must go towards special education and the other half is “supplant” money which could either make up for other state cuts, or go towards new technology such as smart boards (interactive touch screens that replace chalkboards) and kindle electronic reading devices.

 Akers said he hoped more families take advantage of the district’s Symphony and Lexia computer software over the summer. 

 “It’s not just for kids who are struggling, but everybody can use it,” he said.

 The district is also pursuing using stimulus money to train teachers in the use of smartboards.

 Board members also:

 • Noted Birdies for Charity forms — to benefit Cambridge schools through the Cambridge Academic Foundation — are still available at the high school office.

 • Learned the grade school received 50 out of 300 parent surveys back and used the responses in developing this year’s school improvement plan.

 • Learned high school students can now opt for either team sports or fitness/wellness classes for physical education.

 • Learned an exploratory ag class has been created for the eighth grade.

• Learned stimulus money can also be used to hire a facilitator to assist with curriculum mapping.