Is District 64 Dishonest Or Irresponsible About Not-Really-Secured Vestibules?


If you believe the propaganda Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 Supt. Laurie Heinz, Chief School Business official Luann Kolstad, and a majority of the Tony Borrelli-led D-64 Board has been spouting about the state of “security” at the District’s eight school buildings, the under-secured entrances to each of those schools currently put every schoolchild at risk of being injured or killed by:

(a) an “active shooter” like Sandy Hook’s Adam Lanza;

(b) some unbalanced parent looking to settle a custody or child-support score with a Glock;

(c) a radical extremist deliveryman wearing a suicide vest; or

(d) whatever other threat a fertile imagination can conjure up.

So, what are that Board and Administration doing to address these threats that, according to them, exist right here, right now…today?


If you want or need proof of such recklessness, look no further than the meeting video of last Monday (03.21.16) night’s Board meeting.

Once again, the topic was “security” – assuming you can use that term with a straight face when discussing the not-really-secured vestibules on which D-64 wants to spend $8-10 million of our tax dollars. More accurately, however, much of the meeting dealt with the seemingly bogus-and-escalating cost estimates foisted upon this gullible Board by the District’s architect of record FGM Architects (“FGM”) and construction manager Nicholas & Associates (“Nicholas”), heavily aided and abetted by Heinz and Kolstad.

In just 18 days – since March 3rd – the projected costs of those vestibules has reportedly soared a whopping $807,000 from FGM’s/Nicholas’ previous $6.9 million figure. And that $6.9 figure itself was a boxcar increase from the dynamic duo’s initial $5.1 million projection last November.

This vestibules project has gone so far off the rails, so quickly, that even a dependable rubber stamper like Board member Scott Zimmerman balked at the 66% cost escalation – claiming that “I’ve never seen a miss like that” by FGM and Nicholas, before calling what they produced a “half-baked pie.”

Given the funny numbers tossed about at that meeting and mentioned in the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate’s account of it (“District 64 struggles to balance school security upgrades with high price tag,” March 22) – $7.1 million, $8.9 million, or $10.1 million – we’re not sure any of those numbers is remotely close to real.

Yet Heinz, Kolstad, Borrelli and a majority of the Board weren’t going to let FGM’s/Nicholas’ cost WAGuess-timates stop them from finding some way of moving this ill-conceived and profligate project forward that same night. They made that clear by the two alternative motions (A” and “B”) contained in the Board packet, as well as by numerous comments made during the discussion.

Which is why we want to send a big Watchdog bark-out to resident Joan Sandrik, who showed up to once again speak truth to power – albeit this embarrassingly low-voltage School Board and Administration.

Check out the video (starting at the 2:31:30 mark) to see and hear how Sandrik pulled no punches, opening with a head-snapping left jab of “I don’t trust the architects” followed by a right hook of “I don’t trust anything they say.”


In response to the cost escalation of these not-very-secured vestibules, Sandrik quite reasonably asked whether the architects “have…given us a Rolls Royce when all we need is a Buick?”

Although we haven’t seen FGM’s or Nicholas’ contracts with the District, the general rule of thumb is that the more “Rolls Royce” brick-and-mortar projects the District does, the more money flows into FGM’s and Nicholas’ bank accounts. That means it’s in their economic interest – as it has been for D-64’s “security” consultant, RETA Security, Inc. – to peddle as much panic as possible. And the District’s senior administrators and Board majority have been all over that panic-peddling like cats in heat, desperate for some catnip.

$8-$10 million worth of catnip.

Listen to Heinz’s five-minute aluminum siding pitch (starting at 22:40 of the meeting video) in which she invokes the opinion of “numerous security experts” (un-named and therefore un-verifiable) before panic-peddling the “active shooter scenario” (it “could happen”) and then shifting the focus of the vestibules to a more innocuous controlled-movement purpose: restricting where people go once they get inside.

Memo to Heinz: If you don’t have metal detectors at the school entrances, you can’t prevent people from bringing in concealed firearms and ammo. Or a suicide vest filled with ball bearings and metal shrapnel.

And unless you have school personnel escorting visitors (e.g., parents, siblings, grandparents, deliverymen, repairmen, etc.) to whatever room or area of the building he/she is authorized to visit, you have no practical ability to control where that person goes – assuming they have a specific target in mind rather than the desire for random acts of carnage.

Which is why we have to also send a Watchdog bark-out to Board member Tom Sotos, who suggested (starting at 1:10:25 of the meeting video) that the District look into the comparative value of posting an armed security guard at each school entrance for the next 10 years instead of spending roughly the same $8-$10 million on these not-really-secured vestibules.

And another bark-out goes to Board member Mark Eggemann for proposing a referendum on the question of whether a majority of taxpayers casting votes on the issue would support spending multi-millions of dollars on not-really-secured vestibules. He also joined Sotos in calling out Heinz, Kolstad and Borrelli for their insistence on rushing to judgment with a decision while so many options remain under-explored:

“We came here with [options] A and B, and now we’ve got C, D, E and F,” noted Eggemann.

While that kind of reasoning couldn’t completely deter the majority of this Board from blowing taxpayer money, however, it did cause at least a temporary downsizing of the project to a “pilot program” of one school – Washington – which will get about $428,000 of “critical infrastructure” and an $840,000 not-really secured vestibule.

If you believe the Board’s and Administration’s propaganda, that leaves the other seven schools, their students and their teachers sitting ducks for shooters, bombers and various other assorted n’er-do-wells.

It also begs the question of how the District will measure the success of this “pilot” program? Perhaps with an announcement like:

“The new secured $840,000 vestibule at Washington has been every bit as successful at keeping out random active shooters and ISIS terrorists as its predecessor vestibule, so we’re declaring the pilot program a success and rolling out the vestibule program for all the schools”?

Actually, that might be about as forthcoming as D-64 historically has been about the success and failure of many/most of its “pilot” programs.

Despite his professed concern over FGM’s and Nicholas’ 66% cost underestimate, Zimmerman happily endorsed the “pilot program.” So did Board member Vickie Lee, whose predictably mindless support for almost anything and everything the D-64 administration proposes was demonstrated once again by her thinking-is-too-hard “we hired experts” two-minute monolog, starting at 1:43:35 of the meeting video.

So Borrelli and Board member Bob (“Inaction guarantees inequality”) Johnson joined Lee and Zimmerman to approve that pilot program, with Sotos and Eggemann voting “no” and Dathan Paterno MIA. That means Washington will be getting its $840,000 not-really-secured vestibule this summer.

If you’ve got about two hours to spare, and a high pain threshold, you really should try watching the whole “vestibules” segment of the meeting video to see for yourself what passes for informed and intelligent deliberation about multi-million dollar expenditures at D-64. And if your pain threshold is low, you might want to accompany the viewing with an adult beverage of choice, holding the fixings for one or two reinforcements in reserve in case additional numbing is needed.

But whether you finish the video before your beverages finish you, one thing is troublingly clear: This whole not-really-secured vestibules program appears to be, basically, a multi-million dollar fraud.

Either that, or this Board and Administration are AT THIS VERY MOMENT recklessly and callously endangering the lives and safety of thousands of children, teachers and administrators by leaving all these currently under-secured schools “as is” – without trained and armed security personnel on-site to address all the alleged threats and dangers.

You can’t have it both ways, D-64. You’re either lying about the danger, or you’re totally reckless and irresponsible in dealing with it.

To read or post comments, click on title.

LEX And ALF Expose City’s Developmental Disorder


Back on February 25 we published a post about two new construction projects within a block or so of each other in the Greenwood/Busse area.

One is a 25-townhouse project by Lexington Homes on the Greenwood and Elm site known as the City’s old public works headquarters (the “LEX”). The other is an assisted living facility (the “ALF”) on Greenwood between Busse and Northwest Highway.

At the City Council meeting on March 7, rezoning for the LEX – from R-2 single-family residential to R-4 multi-family residential – was defeated by a vote of 4 (Alds. Milissis, Van Roeyen, Shubert and Mazzuca) to 3 (Acting Mayor Maloney and Alds. Moran and Knight).

At that same meeting, the Council approved a “special use” to the ALF – because the site is currently zoned B-2 general commercial – by a vote of 4 (Acting Mayor Maloney and Alds. Moran, Milissis and Van Roeyen) to 3 (Alds. Shubert, Knight and Mazucca), even though the ALF will exceed the maximum 40-foot height permitted in the City’s Zoning Code by a sizable 12 feet, or 30%.

That 30% height variance is scheduled for final approval at tonight’s Council meeting.

We had no “stringer” at the meeting and we haven’t watched the meeting video. That means we’re relying entirely on the articles published in the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate (“Park Ridge City Council says no to Elm Street townhouses,” March 8 and “Assisted living building gets early OK from Park Ridge City Council,” March 10), along with the Agenda Cover memos issued by the City’s Community Preservation & Development Director, Jim Testin, for the LEX and the ALF.

We’ve repeatedly been critical of the City’s unpredictable and seemingly schizophrenic way it deals with zoning. The way these two projects were dealt with would appear to be Object Lesson No. 1 in that regard.

According to the H-A articles, two of the “no” votes against both projects were from Shubert and Mazzuca.

Shubert’s objections to the LEX were traffic-related and because “[m]ost of the people [he’s] talked to were lukewarm or against this particular project,” according to the H-A article.

Mazzuca opposed the LEX – which could have accommodated up to 25 living units – on the grounds that such a multi-family development would be inconsistent with the single-family nature of that neighborhood. He opposed the ALF on a similar there-goes-the-character-of-the-neighborhood basis.

Frankly, we can see both sides of the LEX argument.

But it seems like there’s a lot more heavy lifting, policy-wise, to be done on the fundamental development issues that the LEX presents, such as: Does Park Ridge need 25 additional townhouses on land that reportedly could accommodate 11-12 single-family homes under its current R-2 zoning?

If you’re a local merchant, 25 new townhouses mean more doubling the number of households that standard single-family homes on that property could provide, which might mean roughly double the consumer sales that single-family homes might generate. The townhouses might also bring in more total property tax revenue than single-family homes, although that remains an open question.

But those same 25 townhouses also might double the number of kids enrolling in our public schools. And that might produce annual property tax deficits (per-household student costs v. per-household property taxes paid to the school districts) of ten, twenty or thirty-thousand dollars per residence per year – deficits that will need to be made up the majority of property taxpayers without kids in those schools.

Should overburdening the schools be a City concern?

We think that’s a great question that needs to be addressed by the City Council, and sooner rather than later – because only the City has the legal ability to regulate land development and thereby control the number of residences that can be built in town.

As best as we can tell, neither the City Council nor the Planning & Zoning Commission ever have had that particular “policy” discussion. And don’t expect the D-64 and the D-207 Boards to contribute much of value to such a discussion.

Over the last 25 years, neither school district has demonstrated that they either know or care about how many students they have to educate, so long as they can spend their respective districts into financial crises every so often – for D-64 it’s usually every 10 years or so (e.g., the crisis leading to the “Yes, Yes!” referendum in 1997; and the crisis leading to the “Strong Schools” referendum in 2007) – that enable them cry “Wolf!” and stampede the taxpayers into voting for yet another hefty tax-increase…“for the kids,” of course.

And irrespective of whether all that money actually improves educational quality, objectively measured.

Because both districts are masterful in manipulating and hiding the full impact of their respective financial situations from the taxpayers, however, they can pretty much dictate when those tax-increase referendums are held. That means steering them to the odd-year local elections when voter turnout is significantly lower – and can be more easily dominated by a wellorganized and uber-motivated “for the kids” campaign committee – than in the general elections in November of the even years.

Which might explain why, this year, the D-64 Board appears to be hell-bent on locking in a boxcar’s worth of non-referendum debt for various construction projects (including $7 million for those not-really-secure vestibules) while also giving the PREA (teachers union) a three-or-four-year contract that will almost certainly be, once again, of the sweetheart persuasion. Such profligacy – combined with the enrollment increases likely to come from all those new multi-family residences – can help create another financial crisis suitable for leveraging into another tax-increase referendum in 2017 or, more likely, 2019.

Is there an actual plan for our community’s development; and, if so, is it actually being followed?

Does anybody know? Does anybody care?

To read or post comments, click on title.

Stupid, Dishonest And Irresponsible Is No Way To Run A School District


Over the course of our many years of writing about local government, we’ve often used the terms “stupid,” “dishonest” and “irresponsible” to describe various ideas, actions and people. To the best of our knowledge, however, we have never used all three to describe one idea, action or person.

Today we get to plow new ground.

Our jumping-off point is an article in this week’s Park Ridge Herald-Advocate titled “District 64 approves $2.2 million roof repair plan”   (March 8), which superficially addresses some of the ways D-64’s architect of record, FGM Architects, and its construction management firm, Nicholas and Associates, are planning to generate some fat fees for themselves by selling all sorts of construction projects to such a bovine School Board and Administration that the members would follow a cow with a bell around its neck.

That’s because this School Board, like its predecessors, seems to lack the thing that D-64 brags about teaching its students: critical thinking.

That lack of critical thinking is why the Board members so quickly and so unthinkingly said “Yes!” when the architects, the District’s “security” consultants – to whom everything is a security threat, just like to a hammer everything is a nail – and our local constabulary recommended $6.9 million of “secured vestibules” that really won’t protect the students, faculty and administrators from any kid, any parent, or any visitor from strolling in with one or more knives or guns under their clothing or in their backpacks.

Nor will they protect the assembled multitude from some suicide vest-wearing terrorist, if that’s your preferred bogey-man du jour.

Which is why we criticized such stupid and dishonest expenditures in our posts of 11.10.15 and 11.23.15.

But such criticism didn’t deter the herd mentality of this Board – or deter Board president Tony Borrelli from making such hollow-as-a-drum proclamations of competence and fiscal responsibility as his latest canard: “We’re doing our job by flipping over every rock and looking at every alternative.”

That’s just plain nonsense, of course, and probably dishonest to boot.

This Board and administration would need Google Maps and a GPS system just to find the rocks worth flipping. And then they wouldn’t flip them for fear that they’d find even more evidence and arguments against their stupid not-really-secured vestibule concept that, without metal detectors, won’t be able to screen for and detect guns, knives and the ball bearings that tend to be the shrapnel of choice for explosive-vest bombers.

But where the stupid and the dishonest meet up with the irresponsible is demonstrated by a quote from Board member Tom Sotos, in response to a suggestion by Board member Vickie Lee to get new bids for the highest-cost secured vestibule at Lincoln Middle School, thereby likely delaying that project beyond the completion dates for the other schools’ secured vestibules.

“I don’t want to go to bed at night and say, “I voted not to approve that one school’ and then something happens at that school.”


If Sotos envisions not being able to go to bed with one school out of seven not having a not-really-secured vestibule, how the heck is he sleeping even a wink RIGHT NOW – knowing that NONE of those schools currently has a truly secured vestibule?

The answer: He’s sleeping just fine, thank you, because this whole secured-vestibule brouhaha is nothing more than a charade.

For months now Sotos and the Board have been grandly wringing their hands with Kabuki-style consternation and woe, while telling anyone who will listen about how terribly vulnerable the District’s students are under the schools current security systems. Hence the unequivocal, non-negotiable, absolute “need” to spend almost $7 million on not-really-secured vestibules that won’t keep a student, parent, visitor or disgruntled employee from bringing in lethal weaponry.

That’s almost SEVEN MILLION DOLLARS for continuing non-security. And, based on the H-A article, only Board member Mark Eggemann had enough sense to propose holding off on the not-really-secured vestibules in order to “get the community more involved and get their feedback on whether they want to spend $6.9 million” on not-really-secured vestibules.

Hey, folks! There’s still plenty of time left to put a $6.9 million not-really-secured vestibules referendum question on the November ballot.

Meanwhile, however, Sotos and those same Board members and administrators seem fine and dandy with leaving the kids completely at the mercy of every fanatic and whack-job imaginable for however many more months it will take until the not-really-secured vestibules are constructed. According to the H-A story, the Board couldn’t reach a consensus on “temporary security” at the schools, whatever form that might take.

But $7 million for not-really-secured vestibules is more of a “Look, there goes Elvis!” distraction from the more problematic stagnation, if not decline, in the objectively measurable performance of the District’s students. And it also allows FGM architects and other construction-related vendors to pocket a lot more of the taxpayers’ money on brick and mortar, their forte.

The simple truth is that the threat of such catastrophic violence is no more measurably real today than it was six months ago, or six years ago; or that it will be six months or six years from now. That’s just panic peddling and fear-mongering by a variety of folks who either are shilling for one special interest or another, or who inexplicably believe their own nonsense.

If the threat were real and significant, any responsible Board members and administrators would have insisted on the posting of armed security guards at the entrance to EVERY D-64 school, where they would remain until the not-really-secured vestibules were completed.

That there aren’t proves three very important points about this D-64 Board and administration:

They are stupid. They are dishonest. And they are irresponsible.

To read or post comments, click on title.

A Stump Is Not A Tree, A Shed Is Not A House


Count us among the folks regularly amazed by all the wondrous structures Pete Nelson and his “Treehouse Masters” crew can build in all sorts of trees.

But even though some of the designs can be a bit exotic, we’ve never seen anybody come to blows over them.

Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for what has become Park Ridge’s most famous/infamous “treehouse” at 916 N. Western Ave. Unlike the lush canopies in which Pete and his crew construct their dwellings, however, this one isn’t lodged among serveral sturdy limbs. Instead, it’s perched on what looks to be a five-foot stumpSo it’s actually a “stumphouse” rather than a treehouse, despite its almost 15-foot height.

With its elevated walkway and slides, and at a reported cost of $26,000, we’re surprised the owners didn’t spring for some artificial leafy branches – and maybe even a few Ewoks – to complete the tableau.

A few fake leafy branches, however, probably wouldn’t have been enough to smooth the feathers the stumphouse has ruffled among some of its neighbors.

As reported in the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate (“Support for Park Ridge treehouse led to fistfight, neighbors say,” March 1) and on last Tuesday (March 1) night’s WGN news, an altercation occurred between the stumphouse’s next-door neighbor, who posted a yard sign supporting the structure, and another neighbor whose critical review of the stumphouse was a one middlefinger up. The result: battery charges pending against the supportive neighbor.

One reason we have building and zoning codes is to provide some uniformity and predictability in the appearance and use of private properties in the community. Designed and administered properly, such codes smooth the rough edges and should, at least indirectly, reduce tensions between neighbors over how they use and maintain their property.

So when a structure provokes fisticuffs, it’s probably a good idea to take a closer look into how it got built in the first place. And when we checked the stumphouse documents posted on the City’s website we found some very curious things.

For starters, we found only one permit, No. B1401057 (issued May 29, 2014), having been issued for a “Deck/Deck Addition” valued at $2,400 and carrying a $156 permit fee. That sure doesn’t sound like a permit for a $26,000 stumphouse, so we dug a little deeper. And what we discovered is that about five months after that permit was issued, things started to take a turn for the strange.

According to an October 29, 2014 “Hi Joe” e-mail from the City’s then-Zoning Coordinator, Ed Cage, the permit’s “Deck/Deck Addition” description had mysteriously morphed into what Cage was calling a “deck/treehouse.” Curiously enough, Cage actually warned Solomon against seeking a “variance option” which, according to Cage, “is going to be tough because your neighbor will come to the meetings and it will not go smoothly.”

Can’t you almost see the Chicago-style winks and nods in Cage’s words?

Next, the City’s then-Building Administrator, Lonnie Spires, sent Solomon a November 24, 2014 e-mail in which Spires references the original “deck permit” as having been revised according to some unspecified “drawings.” But we could find no new or revised permit referencing a $26,000 “deck/treehouse” (or “deck/stumphouse”). Nor does it appear that the Solomons paid any additional permit fee for a stumphouse costing 10 times the declared cost of their original “Deck/Deck Addition.”

By March 2015, Cage had departed for a similar job with the City of Wood Dale, and Spires was gone to the Village of Plainfield by June 2015. As best as we can tell, their respective tenures with the City were less than three years. We also hear they were hand-picked hires of the City’s Community Preservation & Development Director, Jim Testin, although we do not yet have confirmation of that.

Irrespective of how they obtained their City employment, however, they were Testin’s subordinates. And if they screwed up, Testin most definitely should be held accountable for that.

Upon inheriting this odd situation, Cage’s successor, Howard Coppari, inspected the stumphouse before e-mailing Testin on July 6, 2015, to advise him that the Solomons’ “Deck/Deck Addition” violated Code because the “deck” was actually an “elevated walkway” more than 8 feet in the air and not attached to the house. He also advised Testin that the Solomons dropped Cage’s and Spires’ names “constantly when [he] was on their property.”

You know, the way some Chicago folks might drop their alderman’s or ward committeeman’s name in the course of dealing with some pesky inspector.

But apparently it didn’t work with Coppari, who sent an August 19, 2015 letter to the Solomons reiterating some of the things he told Testin, and calling the stumphouse “a shed” that was taller than the Code’s 12-foot height limit for sheds.

From everything we’ve been able to check, Coppari’s findings seem to be correct. Which calls into question Cage’s and Spires’ judgment, actions and motives.

The Solomons appealed from Coppari’s determination, and their appeal was addressed at the January 28, 2016 Zoning Board of Appeals hearing. At that hearing the Solomons – through their attorney – focused on the Cage and Spires e-mails, and on the verbal assurances they allegedly gave the Solomons about the structures.

Although the ZBA members empathized with the Solomons’ situation, they noted the Code violations and the gaps in the Solomons’ paperwork before choosing to uphold the Code requirements and Coppari’s decision.

Now the Solomons are saying they will take the City to court on the ZBA’s rejection of their appeal.

Sadly, this hasn’t been the first instance where the building department’s seeming incompetence and slipshod paperwork have caused rather than resolved problems.

For example, we wrote several posts about the residence at 322 Vine (e.g., 05.23.12) and how the then-Building Administrator, Steve Cutaia, since departed for parts unknown, appears to have botched the City’s inspection and certification process so badly – and reportedly gave such ill-advised verbal assurances to the owners – that the then-City attorney couldn’t even use Cutaia as a witness to prosecute the Code violations.

We can’t help but wonder if that would be the case if Cage and/or Spires were subpoenaed to testify in a court hearing regarding the stumphouse. Assuming, of course, that the Solomons actually follow through and sue the City.

And we also can’t help but wonder if the mere sight of the stumphouse would make Pete Nelson and his Treehouse Masters crew cringe.

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One Year After Mayor Dave’s Death, City Remains On H.I.T.A. Course


Mayor Dave Schmidt unexpectedly died one year ago today.

We published his obituary in our post of March 10, 2015. In it we noted how he first ran for mayor as “a reluctant Cincinnatus with a simple campaign platform: ‘H.I.T.A.'”

Honesty. Integrity. Transparency. Accountability.

His steadfast adherence to those principles not only earned him easy re-election but, also, inspired people espousing those same principles to win aldermanic seats.

Not surprisingly, therefore, upon Mayor Dave’s death those aldermen came together without ego, ambition, or rancor and selected 7th Ward Ald. Marty Maloney as Acting Mayor. And to his credit, Maloney has held himself and the Council to those very same H.I.T.A. principles.

Which is why Park Ridge City government remains THE most transparent and accountable local governmental body, by far. And why it continues to recover from the pre-Mayor Dave politics of special interests, obfuscation and denial.

That’s a big part of Mayor Dave’s legacy, to which every public official should aspire.

To read or post comments, click on title.