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At an Evanston Township High School virtual board meeting Monday night, board member Gretchen Livingston raised questions about whether the school should move forward with a project to upgrade facilities around the school’s outdoor track.

“Is it really the right time to spend this kind of money in light of all that’s going on in the community?” Livingston asked.

School Superintendent Eric Witherspoon said it was a good time — because the work to be done is work that can be carried out while the state is under the COVID-19 stay-at-home order. “It will provide income for a lot of workers and families, and help keep the suppliers of the company that gets the contract in business.”

Witherspoon added that funding for the project comes from debt certificates already issued by the board, so the money could only be used for capital improvements. It couldn’t be shifted to expand the district’s emergency meals program or other uses.

Finally, Witherspoon said, the bid for the project — which includes upgrades to the shot-put area, the discus cages and long jump area — came in substantially below the budgeted amount — at $208,738.

Livingston said that with that information she felt comfortable voting for the contract, but said the board needed to have a lot more discussion around budget issues related to the pandemic.

“We need to preserve what is a very healthy financial situation now,” she added.

Mary Rodino, the district’s chief financial officer, said the board would only have one more meeting after Monday’s session before it starts working on the budget for next school year.

“We don’t have a crystal ball, but we’re going to have to find one,” to do budget planning for next year, Rodino added.

In the end the board voted unanimously to approve the contract with Team Reil for work on the track and also approved a contract for about $52,000 with Jostens of Minneapolis for production of the school yearbook.

That price was about a third higher than the price offered by two other firms, but Rodino, in a memo, said Jostens was the only bidder who offered the option to work on the yearbook remotely using software programs — which would be needed during events like the COVID-19 school shutdown.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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