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OPINION:I Stand By My Reporting On PMSA

For a brief moment during a Sept. 18 regular meeting of the Proviso Township High Schools District 209 school board, the local newspapers became the topic of discussion. The subject was our handling of the facilities master plan process that has been going on at the district for a year now.

I (representing Village Free Press) and my colleagues at Forest Park Review have reported on the process from the beginning (before the school board hired Perkins and Will to help draft the plan) until that Sept. 18 meeting, when representatives from the architectural firm, school board members and Supt. Jesse Rodriguez seemed to cast an important part of our coverage in a cloud of suspicion.

“The newspaper stated that PMSA was going to close,” Rodriguez said. “And then they stated that PMSA is not going to close. They’re utilizing information that they receive in the board meeting in a way that they understand it, but what they and the public should know is that no decision has been made.”

Mark Jolicoeur, an architect with Perkins and Will, said that the architectural firm “in no way, shape or form” makes any final decision on the master plan. That’s the board’s role.

“We cannot control what a writer puts in a newspaper and publishes,” Jolicoeur said, adding that he doesn’t have the ability to make Village Free Press and Forest Park Review retract the information in the articles that I wrote (and I’ve written all of the articles relevant to that Sept. 18 board discussion).

I admire and respect every member on the current school board, as well as Supt. Rodriguez. I also think Perkins and Will is doing a fine job handling this master facilities planning process and have done a great job handling a similar long-term capital planning process in a nearby high school district that I also cover.

But I have to push back against the perception of our coverage that seems to have taken root among a critical mass of D209 officials and the district’s outside architect.

At no point have I reported that PMSA will or will not close. At no point have I reported the preliminary plans so far drafted as part of the facilities master plan as if they were final plans approved by the board. At no point have I suggested in my reporting that the architects have, as Jolicoeur claims, made any final decisions regarding the master plan.

In fact, the last sentence of the very first article that I wrote about this matter — entitled “D209 could dissolve PMSA campus” in Forest Park Review and “Architects, Public Ponder Merging PMSA Campus With East And/Or West” in Village Free Press —is this: “[Jolicoeur] said that the firm [Perkins and Will] will have a draft facilities master plan completed by May to present to the board in June.”

Higher up in that article is this: “For the first time in the master facilities planning process, the architects offered a series of very preliminary options for dealing with the district’s facilities burden and most of them centered on what to do with PMSA.”

The architects presented “very preliminary” concepts (based, in part, on public input and an evaluation of the district’s financial realties and capital needs) that introduced the possibility of D209 dissolving PMSA’s campus (hence the headline in Forest Park Review, which may be blunt or worded for effect, but it’s not wrong).

After many PMSA families lodged a strong opposition against even considering the possibility of dissolving the school’s one-building campus (which they thought tantamount to closing the school itself), the architects did what they were hired by the board to do — they modified their preliminary plans, concepts and scenarios in order to take into account that particular strain of community feedback.

The preliminary plan now takes into account all three campuses. The architects, steering team and building leadership teams are no longer even flirting with the idea of dissolving PMSA’s campus. Indeed, D209 board members came to a consensus at a meeting on Sept. 18 that all three campuses will remain intact (they did not, however, formally vote on the matter).

The architects are still working with district officials and community members to draft a plan that they hope reflects the district’s and the wider community’s needs, priorities and values. District officials are currently refining funding scenarios related to the master plan. There’s more community feedback to come in October. The board could vote on a final master facilities plan sometime before the year is out.

That’s what has happened. That’s where this process is at. That’s what I’ve reported. And, so far, no one at Perkins and Will, and no one at the district has offered up any information that substantially refutes my reporting. Besides, my reporting is based on information that they themselves have provided to the public.

I urge everyone to read our coverage critically and thoroughly. If we haven’t reported on something accurately, please let us know in detail and, if you’re right, we’ll issue a correction. But for elected officials and well-respected professionals to perpetuate what I’m confident is a gross misreading of my work is just plain wrong.

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