A sidewalk and a concrete slab at Effingham Early Learning Center may not sound like a big endeavor, but there are rules and regulations, as well as extra costs, related to the project.

ELC Principal Kay Halford asked the Unit 40 Board of Education Monday for the go-ahead for a contractor to install a 95-foot sidewalk and a concrete slab attached to the playground.

The rubber mulch at the playground doesn’t allow for children in wheelchairs, strollers or with walkers or canes to use the equipment, and sometimes, teachers have to carry the students to swings or set them on other equipment to play.

The sidewalk also would allow for better access and the slab could be used for other activities, such as playing basketball or teaching children how to ride a tricycle or bicycle, said Halford. The school’s current set up of playground equipment and surfaces doesn’t allow for those activities.

Halford said teachers have pooled their money together and offered to sacrifice an extra $250 from the Education Foundation Committee designated for each classroom to help pay for the project. Other donations to the Foundation committee total about $4,000.

About $4,700 is available in the school’s fundraising account from T-shirt sales, box tops and book fairs, which also includes a $5 extra fee per student to help fund holiday and end-of-year classroom parties.

“And if we’re not allowed to do this, I want to let the teachers use that money for their classrooms this year,” Halford told the board.

Superintendent Dan Clasby and Business Director Dean Keller said it was a good idea, but if the concrete is installed, it must comply with Americans with Disabilities Act standards. This involves an architect and an engineer, which can add a large sum to the cost of construction.

“I’m thinking this amount might be almost doubled,” Keller said, referring to the estimated $5,500 to $8,000 cost of the project.

“It’s a sad day when a board can’t do what’s right for the kids because of some stupid law,” said Board President Del Soltwedel, referring to the strict regulations of the ADA.

Board member Debbie Lacrone, whose own child has special needs, reacted differently to the required standards.

“Look at why it’s being done. Teachers have to lift kids to a swing. That’s not right,” Lacrone said. “Teachers have been doing what they can do, but for how much longer? Don’t let the ADA get a bad rap when they’re putting laws in place for those with disabilities.”

Soltwedel later apologized for his remark and said he understood why the school must comply with the act.

“Personally, I want to see the board do it and not the school do it,” Soltwedel said.

Keller said the project could be paid for with health-life-safety funds after an amendment is written by an architect. The architect then bills the district for the cost of doing a preliminary study, which will determine the estimated cost of installation of the concrete.

Keller said the health-life-safety money can only be used if the amendment is approved by the state, but the state won’t approve it unless the amendment is written by an architect.

He added he’d like to see all the schools’ sidewalks and parking lots worked on after the $3 million worth of repairs at schools are finished this summer.

But Lacrone felt the job needed to be done, regardless of whether or not the project required more money for an architect.

“I still think we need to get this done,” Lacrone said. “We’re spending all this money on these other buildings, but not this one?”

The board decided to spend over $3 million on health-life-safety repairs at all the district’s schools, but are focusing mostly on Central School and the high school because they are set to last longer than 40 years.

“As administrators, we did what you told us to do and that was to find ways to repair the high school and Central,” Clasby fired back. “We’re just advising you on what’s best.”

“I know you do and I’m glad you do,” Lacrone said calmly. “But we made this school out of a building. What makes us think we can’t do this?”

ELC was a warehouse until the mid-1990s when it was turned into a school.

Laura Weber and Bob Fogarty of Honeywell were at the meeting to discuss the current health-life-safety improvements at the district’s schools. Clasby asked if they’d be willing to donate their time to the project at ELC, and they said they’d be willing to help, but the funds would have to come from a different mechanism than directly from ELC.

Clasby said the money could come from the Working Cash Fund, but advised against it because of declining state aid. Unit 40 has made more than $850,000 worth of cuts to its schools.

“I just don’t understand how you guys can sit here and say no to these teachers,” Lacrone said.

“To hell with the state,” board member Brian Wick chimed in.

Wick has been vocal in the past about complying with ADA standards and voted against adding sidewalks to its concrete baseball dugouts to comply.

Soltwedel stepped in and said the board had three options — install the concrete through a regular contractor, spend more money for an architect to be sure to comply with ADA standards or decline to help at all.

Clasby said it only takes one person to complain for ADA to be enforced, requiring the school to redo a project to those standards.

Board member Dave Worman asked Keller when the district could begin construction on the concrete if health-life-safety funds are used.

Keller said it could be done in early fall, and the concrete could be poured by September.

The board informally agreed to allow Keller to find cost estimates for architectural fees, as well as pouring the concrete. Those figures will be presented at the April 26 meeting.

Samantha Newburn may be reached at 217-347-7151 ext. 131 or samantha.newburn@effinghamdailynews.com.

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