KANKAKEE — Due to the probability of an impending decommission of two 30-year-old boilers which heat two school buildings, Kankakee District 111 is currently combing through the community to find locations for 38 classrooms and 162 staff members.

After word came down from a local fire official that the boilers at Lincoln Cultural Center might be decommissioned, the district announced on Tuesday that Wednesday would be the last day for students to physically attend school at LCC and King Middle School for the foreseeable future.

While available classroom space is being sought, students and staff members are working remotely.

“We are actively looking at multiple options (for relocating students),” Superintendent Genevra Walters said. “We are looking at all available classrooms in the entire district. There are some available at Kennedy, Steuben, a few at Edison.”

Other buildings in the city of Kankakee and surrounding area also are being explored, with at least 12 different sites on the list.

“We are looking at all possible places where students can go,” Walters said. “I’m thinking in a week, we will have a really solid plan of where our students can go and where our offices can go.”

The district’s central office staff also are located at LCC.

Kankakee Fire Chief Bryan LaRoche said that he was notified on Tuesday by the office of the Illinois State Fire Marshal that it found the boilers to be in poor condition during a January inspection, and that the office may be decommissioning the boilers.

LaRoche then informed the school district and maintenance staff at LCC and discussed their options, he said.

“These particular boilers are made out of cast iron; they are harder to repair once there are cracks,” LaRoche said. “So either the piping has to be replaced, or they have to actually replace the whole boiler, which I believe is what is going to be needed this time around.”

LaRoche said that if the district were to repair the boilers to keep them running before new ones are installed, the state fire marshal’s office would then inspect the repair and determine if the boilers are safe to operate.

The district was in the process of getting the boilers replaced when the news came down Tuesday of the possible decommission.

The Kankakee School Board had approved a bid for the LCC boiler replacement a day earlier; the approved bid for $1,251,000 came from Monaco Mechanical based in Lisle.

The work includes the removal and replacement of existing boiler piping, lighting and steam boilers with new combination steam-hot water boilers, according to board documents.

“At this time, the replacement of the existing boilers is imminent, and repair of these boilers has been investigated and would be temporary and not a guaranteed fix because the boilers have reached the end of their lifespan,” reads the project description from Edward Wright, principal architect of DLA Architects.

According to a timeline provided by the district, it placed legal notice for the LCC boiler replacement project in the Daily Journal on Dec. 8, and hosted a pre-bid meeting to discuss the scope and work with potential contractors and DLA Architects on Dec. 15.

Then, bids were received and opened Jan. 5, and the low bidder’s paperwork was reviewed by DLA to provide a recommendation at the next school board meeting.

On Monday, Jan. 10, the board approved the bid.

Walters said the boilers underwent an annual inspection in February 2021, and the district was told that they needed to be repaired.

The boilers were inspected again in August because the previous repairs did not last. The district was told the boilers needed to be repaired again.

After the second repair, the district began talks with its architects about replacing the boilers and officially started the process in December when the notice for bids was placed in the Daily Journal.

Walters said it was coincidence that she was notified of the possible decommission the day after the bid for the work was approved by the school board.

School Board Vice President Darrell Williams said that the board decided to replace the boilers because they had already been fixed twice before, and continual repairs are costly.

Ideally, the repairs would have kept the boilers functional until warmer weather reared and the new ones were in the building.

“We thought we could fix it to keep it going until the summer, until the spring, but it got to the point where we just couldn’t do it,” Williams said. “We tried to minimize the impact on the students. If it could have waited until the spring, that would have been fine. School is almost out then. … It just didn’t work out that way.”

Williams noted that a project of this size in a school district requires a bidding process, which has multiple steps.

“You can’t just say, ‘oh it’s broken’ and have somebody out tomorrow to fix it,” he said. “It’s too big of a job.”

While the buildings can still be occupied, as the decommission is expected but has not yet happened, Walters said she did not want to wait for the official letter to begin the process of planning and moving everyone.

“What I don’t want to do is wait until a fire marshal gives me a letter that says you are decommissioned, which means that moment we have to shut the boilers down,” she said. “If we shut the boilers down right now, we are at the risk of the pipes freezing in two buildings. So what we are going to do is vacate the buildings, let the boilers continue to operate and have someone check on the boiler every single day until it gets warm.”

She said that if the state fire marshal determines the boilers can be repaired and operate safely until they are replaced, then that would be done and students would be brought back into the buildings.

Reporter

Stephanie Markham joined the Daily Journal in February 2020 as the education reporter. She focuses on school boards as well as happenings and trends in local schools. She earned her B.A. in journalism from Eastern Illinois University.