Daily Herald
District 214 to appeal to FAA for funds to soundproof high school
By Madhu Krishnamurthy | Daily Herald Staff
Published: 11/27/2009 12:01 AM

Township High School District 214 officials say they will appeal a Federal Aviation Administration decision not to grant funding for soundproofing Elk Grove High School to buffer against aircraft noise.

District 214 officials recently accused the FAA of reneging on a promise to provide more than $10 million to soundproof the school as part of the O'Hare Noise Compatibility Commission's insulation program.

A regional FAA spokesman said this week such a promise was never made.

"Elk Grove High School was on a list to be eligible for analysis to see if they could get any kind of grant money," said Tony Molinaro, FAA Great Lakes Region spokesman. "It is not a guarantee that funding will be available for a specific school for either the design phase or installation."

District 214 Associate Superintendent of Finance Deb Parenti said that's nothing more than government spin.

"There is never any guarantee for funding," said Parenti, who is the district's liaison to the O'Hare Noise Compatability Commission.

Parenti said in two separate letters dated June 2005 and July 2006, the FAA told the commission that Elk Grove High School was eligible for the funding. Therefore, she said, the district began to plan the construction.

In a June 11 letter, the FAA wrote that the high school is no longer eligible for soundproofing money because the projected noise level, according to the results of monitoring done by the city of Chicago, had dropped since a previous study.

Molinaro said Elk Grove High School was deemed eligible to compete for federal funding because the school registered a day/night noise decibel level of 59.7 in a 2000 study, falling within the local standard of 60 decibels for schools to apply for Airport Improvement Program funds.

But as the O'Hare International Airport expansion got under way, the FAA told city of Chicago that it no longer could use the 2000 study or current noise data due to the changing landscape, Molinaro said.

"We wanted a forecast of when the whole project was done in 2014, what would those noise levels look like in those schools," Molinaro said.

Results of the new noise study were released in spring of 2008. With the new calculations projecting out to 2014 when O'Hare expansion should be completed, the day/night noise decibel level at Elk Grove High School is expected to be 55.7.

That's because the new runway at O'Hare, which opened in 2008, is expected to create new flight patterns pushing noise away from Elk Grove High School.

Two other schools that also lost their eligibility based on revised projected noise levels are Carpenter School in Park Ridge - down from 62.7 to 54.2 - and Ridgewood High School in Norridge - down from 62.7 to 58.3.

"When we looked at it, by the time this thing is completed in four or five years, they will no longer have the higher noise levels," Molinaro said. "We don't want to waste taxpayer money."

Parenti said it is unfair of the FAA to dangle the funding carrot for so many years and pull it at the last minute when only three schools remain to be insulated.

"There have been 117 schools that have been funded through the FAA through the school sound insulation program," Parenti said. "Our students, all of these years, have had all of the noise from these planes under the old contour and will continue to have it until the project is completed."

The O'Hare Noise Compatability Commission plans to plead the case of the three schools before top FAA officials in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 9, with backing of local legislators and Arlington Heights Village President Arlene Mulder, the commission's chairwoman.