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SD 227 board approves inquiry into buying administration building

Updated: November 11, 2013 12:34PM



The Rich Township High School District 227 administrative building, which was purchased and renovated in 2011 for $4.2 million, was worth only $1.2 million after the renovations, according to school board member Antoine Bass.

The board voted 4 to 3 to hire an independent party to investigate the purchase and renovation of the building, 20550 Cicero Ave., Matteson. Board president Cheryl Coleman and members David Morgan and Delores Woods voted with Bass for approval. Board members Shelia Friday, Betty Owens and Emmanuel Imoukhuede opposed the inquiry.

Related motions to accuse former District 227 Supt. Donna Leak of financial mismanagement and to turn over all financial documentation to the state were tabled.

Bass said the administration building was purchased for $835,000 without an appraisal, and it actually had a market value of $650,000 at the time, according to a recent appraisal ordered by the board.

“No attorney looked at the contract beforehand,” he said. “No bids were done on the property to see how much it would cost to renovate it. There was nothing done that makes sense (from a) real estate standpoint.”

Board member Betty Owens questioned the validity of the appraiser that Bass used, suggesting that comparable buildings nearby were not used for comparison.

“I looked over that appraisal,” she said. “The comps that were used for that appraisal were not all from this area. They were from Tinley Park, from Homewood and other areas.”

Owens said the district bought the building because enrollment was projected to increase, and Rich Central High School, where the administrative offices were housed, needed space for more classrooms.

But between the decision in 2006 to buy a new building, and the purchase in 2011, District 227’s enrollment began to decline, Bass said. He said an enrollment study in 2009 should have let the board know that acquiring the building was unnecessary.

“We went out and bought an 18,000-square-foot building for 18 people,” he said. “That makes no sense whatsoever.”

The board should look at itself rather than blaming Leak for the administration building, member Shelia Friday said.

“There are at least five people sitting on this board right now that were on the board when that building was purchased,” she said. “I question us as a board rather than questioning the former superintendent. We need to be very careful in that.”

Leak is just one of those who will be investigated, Bass said.

“We want to make sure everybody is on the up and up,” he said. “Maybe a board member could have an interest in a construction company or maybe somebody could have an interest in making money on the real estate side. We don’t know so we have to investigate to see why (the building purchase) was approved because at the end of the day, it wasn’t approved for the best interest of the district.”



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