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updated: 7/7/2010 6:35 AM

DuPage County schools keeping eye on strike

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  • Officials as St. Francis High School in Wheaton are keeping a close eye on how an ongoing construction strike may affect their project.

      Officials as St. Francis High School in Wheaton are keeping a close eye on how an ongoing construction strike may affect their project.
    Tanit Jarusan | Staff Photographer

 
 

With the first day of classes approaching and new facility projects on their plates, officials at several DuPage County schools are keeping a close eye on construction delays caused by striking workers and what it may mean for them.

St. Francis High School in Wheaton and Wheaton Christian Grammar School in Winfield both are in the midst of construction projects that have been on hold since July 1 when the International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 150 and Laborers' District Council of Chicago and Vicinity went on strike.

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Meanwhile, officials in Glenbard High School District 87 say the strike may hinder an accelerated timeline the district had planned for a long-anticipated project to install artificial turf at Glenbard West's Memorial Field.

The two unions are at odds with the Mid-America Regional Bargaining Association and Excavators Inc., representing contractors, over wage and benefit issues. The groups represent about 15,000 workers.

Officials at St. Francis and Wheaton Christian say the strike should not drastically affect their plans or create problems for the first day of school - at least not yet.

"At this point, given the kinds of things we're doing, and from what our general contractors told us, we're doing fine and they can make up a day or two," said Tom Bednar, president of St. Francis, where construction for a new $7 million science suite and learning resource center was halted Friday.

"If it stretches out longer, if it goes a full week, then we might have some issues," he said.

The addition is not slated to be complete until late next year, providing some leeway for officials and workers to stay on schedule.

Union workers picketed outside the school's construction site Friday and Tuesday.

Bednar said the workers were doing mostly internal jobs on the existing building before the strike began, which included setting up plumbing and electrical lines that will feed into the new structure.

Excavation for sewer lines and some pouring of concrete for handicap areas also were delayed.

Bednar's main concern is that work in the original part of the school gets completed before students start classes Aug. 16, eliminating distractions such as workers in the hallways.

"We're hoping the talks will resume and they'll come to an agreement and people can get back to work," he said.

Robert Broman, director of development and business operations at Wheaton Christian Grammar School, has similar sentiments, but said construction of the new building replacing Wheaton Christian's old kindergarten to eighth-grade school already is 99 percent finished.

He said the strike has not hindered workers from putting the finishing touches on the building at 1N350 Taylor Drive in Winfield.

The strike did, however, delay installation of the foundation for a playground area outside the building.

"We had asphalt scheduled to be laid down last Thursday, the day after they went on strike," Broman said. "We did not get that asphalt yet, but as far as I can tell that's the only thing that's been affected."

Broman said he anticipates the job still will be completed before Aug. 24 when students arrive for the first day at their new campus.

"If they don't settle the strike in the next, let's say 30 days, we could always try a nonunion solution," he said. "But we've gotten this far. We're just kind of in a wait mode hoping this strike will settle soon."

While the strike could delay the completion of the Wheaton-area projects, Glenbard Assistant Superintendent for Business Services Chris McClain says officials have talked in recent days about the impact it could have on the start of the $1.6 million turf project. At one time, the district had hoped to embark on an aggressive schedule and complete the work by Aug. 27. Now, even a more conservative estimate of Sept. 17 will be tough to meet.

McClain said a ceremonial groundbreaking July 13, which was intended to reward area organizations that raised more than $300,000 over the course of about 18 months through private donations for the project, will most likely go on. However, heavy machinery was expected to be moved in and ready to go before the ceremony, something that will most likely not happen.

"We're concerned and we're monitoring it very closely," he said. "We had a discussion in terms of what options we have, if any. Quite honestly, we're at the mercy of the union membership."

Daily Herald Staff Writer Marco Santana contributed to this report.

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