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posted: 4/3/2010 12:01 AM

Warren Twp. High opts for higher-priced lawn service

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Concerns about not wanting to knock teenagers out of jobs prompted Warren Township High School's board to retain the Gurnee Park District for lawn mowing instead of hiring a local business for slightly less cost.

Lawn service was an area where Gurnee-based Warren District 121's business chief identified a potential savings of at least $960 this year by having Zenith Landscape Group in Wadsworth cut the grass instead of the park district.

But the Warren board voted 5-1 on Feb. 10 to reject the lowest responsible bid from Zenith, and agreed to keep the park district for mowing. Officials were allowed to bypass the low company bid because the park district is another governmental unit.

District 121 board member Charles Crowley Jr. said during the meeting there was not enough potential savings to justify dumping the Gurnee park system.

"With the park district," Crowley said, "the odds are you're hiring local kids to be able to (cut lawns) for the most part. And it does help them with summer jobs."

Board member Jeanette Thommes, who cast the lone "no" vote, said the rehiring of the park district was contrary to how the school should be doing business. She reiterated her position last week.

"They were the lowest bidder," Thommes said of Zenith, "and that's how we generally award work."

Although Crowley was concerned about teenagers losing jobs, records show young minimum-wage workers weren't always cutting grass last year at Warren's O'Plaine Road freshmen-sophomore campus or the Almond Road complex for upperclassmen.

Depending on who mowed, the park district's bills ranged from about $13 to $36 an hour last year. Using July as an example, the park system sent the school 28 bills for workers at $20 or more an hour and 14 bills for those making $13.

Gurnee Park District Executive Director Susie Kuruvilla said the hourly rates were a calculation of a worker's salary and benefits, plus equipment and fuel charges. A full-time park employee with a $16-an-hour base salary was billed to Warren at $32.

"We will not be able to always assign the lowest-paid employees to do this task," Kuruvilla said. "We have a mowing crew who work a weekly schedule going from park to park. It is the most efficient way for us to schedule them."

Warren board President John Anderson said the idea of helping teens retain summer jobs was the top reason to keep the park district for grass chores.

"Everybody thought they were giving money back to the community, and putting kids to work," Anderson said. "If that's not the case, we need to check that out."

At a fixed $700 per week, Zenith wound up the lowest of nine bidding companies. The company received praise for its lawn work from Kildeer-Countryside Elementary District 96 and Gurnee Elementary District 56.

It's estimated the park district's cost to Warren would average $748 a week. Lawns require mowing at Warren's two campuses about 20 weeks a year.