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By MATT DANIELS
For Rantoul Press
Each month, the figure is usually mentioned within the first five minutes of a Rantoul Township High School board meeting.
RTHS Superintendent Scott Amerio declares the amount of money the district has received from the 1 percent sales tax that took effect in Champaign County at the start of 2010.
The amount typically never exceeds $50,000 in a month, but that money is used to help fund construction projects at RTHS and to pay off the sale of bonds used for said construction projects.
“The nice thing about the bond revenue is it is being paid for with the county sales tax money,” Amerio said. “ We’ve been able to do all these projects and all these upgrades without passing it on to the property tax owner.”
Among the upgrades are a new geothermal heating and cooling system that was installed at the start of the 2012-13 school year; new windows put in the school prior to the 2011-12 school year; tuckpointing done at various points in and around the building; and a new east wing elevator that should be operational by the time the 2013-14 school year arrives.
“The biggest upgrade has been the installation of the geothermal system in the east wing,” Amerio said. “Over the past three years, we have done right around $3.5 million in building upgrades. One year our focus was the envelope of the building. That spanned two summers by replacing all the windows because they were the original 1950s single-pane windows. Last summer we did the tuckpointing so we could take care of the outside of the building.”
With geothermal units in every classroom, no longer does RTHS have to worry about classrooms becoming too hot at the start of school or too cold in the winter months.
All the construction projects that have taken place at RTHS in the last few years have had a purpose, Amerio said.
“Obviously it wouldn’t make sense to do a geothermal project unless you have the envelope of the building taken care of,” Amerio said. “If you install a new system, that would just send everything out the window anyway. You’re losing your efficiency, so that’s kind of why we did the windows and tuckpointing first.”
RTHS has three floors and several different wings of the building all connected into one. The west wing was originally built in the 1920s before receiving an upgrade in the early 2000s while the large chunk of the east wing was erected in the 1950s and 1960s. The east wing elevator that is currently in the school is the original one constructed more than half a century ago.
Another ongoing project Amerio wants to see accomplished at RTHS is replacing new ceiling tile and floor tile in the south end of the east wing.
“It was put together in parts,” Amerio said of RTHS. “The part with the ceiling tile and floor tile was built in 1962, where you have asbestos tile, where the rest of the building is not. You run into goofy things like that. We have an old building, like the east wing building, that’s going to need maintenance. To me, that was the beauty of the sales tax money. We have to do capital improvement projects. We can’t take that money and put it in the education fund. It has to be used for these projects.”
The main office, which was reconfigured in 2010, received an upgrade during winter break. All guests entering RTHS must now hit a buzzer to enter the school. Amerio said the new security measure was not in reaction to the December shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
“When we redid the main office in 2010, we had designs to put the buzzer system put in,” Amerio said. “It was something we had planned. We just needed to get everything lined up in order to do that.”
While the litany of projects and how to budget the particular projects has kept Amerio busy in his two-plus years as the district’s superintendent, he wants RTHS to maintain a modern look despite the age of the building.
“You look at your stakeholders in your schools,” Amerio said. “You have students, staff members, parents and community members. Having a school that is a nice environment, that’s good for your students and your staff members who spend the majority of their day here. It’s also nice for parents and community members to have a school they can be proud of. The upkeep of the building is very important to me.”