D-64 Board Stealthily Picks Architect Of Record


The anti-transparent Board and Administration of Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 is it at it again.

As we predicted back on March 9th (“‘Transparency’ Is Still MIA At School District 64”), the D-64 Board went ahead and chose Ohio-based (but with a convenient Park Ridge office) Fanning Howey (“FH”) over Oakbrook-based FGM to become the District’s “architect of record” for the construction project(s) D-64 is contemplating.

Why FH?

We’re not sure, because the only information emanating from the secretive D-64 Board is that a point-based ranking system was used, and that FH got the most points.  Of course, this being D-64, we could find no evidence on the District’s website or elsewhere of either the Board’s ranking system or exactly how FH stacked up to its competition – other than the description (in Appendix 4 to the April 25, 2011, meeting agenda) of the process as being “simple.”  As usual, the D-64 Board members just expect the taxpayers to blindly trust them.

We prefer Ronald Reagan’s “Trust, but verify,” especially when dealing with the Culture of Secrecy at D-64.

But verification doesn’t come easy when dealing with folks who don’t bother to televise or even videotape their meetings, unlike both the Park Ridge Recreation & Park District and the City.  As a result, residents have to rely on sketchy newspaper accounts or on the even sketchier meeting minutes.  Or on D-64’s “Board Meeting Highlights”… so long as you don’t need highlights for any meetings since September 28, 2009. 

With that kind of track record, we’re not surprised that we can’t determine from D-64’s website or elsewhere how many and what kind of points FH scored to best its competition for the “architect of record” spot.  But we are troubled by the knowledge that FH specializes in helping school districts pass referendums.  As we pointed out in our March 9 post, FH’s website touts its “community engagement” and “referendum/bond issue assistance” among its professional architectural credentials.  FH also promotes its ability to help schools recruit various community groups and special interests to support the referendums that will put bundles of school construction dollars into FH’s coffers.

Along those very lines, an October 20, 2010, story in the Daily Herald (“Companies in line for Gurnee school work support referendum”) described how FH caught some flak last year for contributing $1,000 to a group promoting a “yes” vote on a referendum for Gurnee School Dist. 56 to borrow $28.5 million, primarily to build a new school for which FH was going to do the architecture, engineering and design firm.  That contribution was criticized by a Gurnee anti-referendum group and the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, the former comparing it to what occurs in “Springfield and Chicago…giving money to get a job,” while the latter branded it a conflict of interest.

Whether FH practices pay-to-play government contracting or not is beside the point of this post.  What concerns us more is D-64’s continuing and almost flagrant lack of transparency.

Although the minutes of the D-64 Board’s April 25 meeting report that FH was the winner of the ranking process, those minutes are silent on any details about D-64’s ranking system or the various contestants’ scores.  Instead, those minutes happily note that newly-elected Board member Scott Zimmerman “remarked that…the District’s process [was] rigorous, fair and effective” – but without any explanation of why he thought that to be so, or to what “similar processes” he was comparing this one.

Not to be outdone, D-64’s business manager, Rebecca Allard, made a point of including in the published board packet a letter of recommendation for FH from…wait for it…Gurnee School Dist. 56, where Ms. Allard just happened to work a few jobs ago.  That letter raves about FH, with Gurnee’s superintendent gushing that he “could not have been more pleased” to be working with FH – and then re-gushing “in the clearest manner possible that we could not be more pleased” with FH’s services.

Nowhere in all that gushing, however, does the Gurnee superintendent say exactly why they take so much pleasure from FH and its services.  But it looks like D-64 taxpayers will soon be finding out.

In the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate’s May 12 story (“District 64 board OKs $1.6 million for parking expansion, new playground”), D-64 Board president John Heyde is quoted as responding to the $170,808 cost of a new playground at Franklin Elementary School with: “School construction is expensive.”

It sure is, Mr. Heyde.  And it looks and sounds like D-64 taxpayers are going to be finding that out with increasing frequency in the months to come.

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