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Last spring, the District 202 School Board approved year one of a five-year strategic plan, designating $7,222,376 for capital improvements to the Evanston Township High School in 2008-09. The first year’s capital improvement plan (CIP) includes site, transportation, mechanical and education projects, and is part of an expansive plan targeting more than $37 million of funds coming principally from bond issues, grants and private donations through 2010.

Many of the capital improvements factor in environmental sustainability and reduced operating costs for the District. The largest and perhaps most visible CIP project last year was the reconstruction of the varsity football, soccer, and lacrosse field (Lazier Field named in honor of former coach Murney Lazier), which was budgeted at $2 million and funded in part by a $200,000 donation from the NFL. Durable artificial turf has replaced grass, and the new low-maintenance ground cover is expected to generate considerable savings in landscaping and water costs over its projected ten-year life span.

“In recent times the District has spent about $40,000 a year to irrigate the field,” said District 202’s Chief Financial Officer, Bill Stafford, “and that’s considerable operating budget savings to us.” He explained that additional savings will be realized with the completed installation of two underground water retention tanks that collect rainwater for irrigation reuse. “Those combined two tanks will hold the equivalent of 6,000 barrels of water, water available to irrigate the surrounding grass fields that include two softball, two baseball, and three football/soccer fields,” Mr. Stafford said.

In addition, lacrosse is a fast growing sport at ETHS, and its popularity results in increased demands on Lazier Field. The recently installed artificial turf is expected to make the field available not only to more ETHS students, but also to weekend community sports organizations such as AYSO Soccer, Evanston Youth Lacrosse programs and Team Evanston Soccer.

The strategic planning team attempted to reduce costs and to make the ETHS site more sustainable in other ways. Planners recycled the dirt removed during the installation of the underground water tanks, the water drainage system and the artificial turf at Lazier Field to reconstruct the varsity baseball field. The bright new stadium lights at Lazier Field allowed the Wildkits to play their first-ever evening game at home; but the lights also fit into the high school’s efforts to use ecologically friendly technologies — they can be dialed down in brightness for practice. The light posts contain cellular antennae, which provide a revenue stream to the District.

In other parts of the CIP, updates to the high school’s 1966 chilled-water-loop system for air conditioning will reduce water, energy and labor costs. Replacement parts and modifications to the system of pipes, valves and pumps supplying air conditioning to ETHS are part of the phased five-year CIP.

Also, the CIP has designated funds for the purchase of two to three small buses.

“Buying the buses will remove bus-rental expenditures from the operating budget and will allow more opportunities to transport 15-25 students on field trips or to sporting, debate or other events,” said Mr. Stafford.

Additional projects funded through CIP funds will include a new electric power distribution network. Budgeted at $120,000, this improvement will provide better lighting and energy options for all the athletic fields. Other projects slated for 2009 include badly needed new bathrooms in the Beardsley Gym area, replacement windows throughout the school, and information systems projects that consist of up-to-date software applications that will improve school-parent communications.

Another technology project being funded is the retrofitting of a classroom into a computer-aided design lab (CAD). Adding to the computer-aided drafting classes at ETHS is seen as a positive step in training students for high-demand jobs in industries such as construction, manufacturing and engineering

Visitors this year attending ETHS celebratory events for the school’s 125th birthday were able to enjoy another CIP project: a newly created art gallery located in the auditorium lobby. The formerly drab, poorly lit and unremarkable space received a major overhaul to showcase student work and other relevant exhibits.

Pam Sloan, head of the Fine Arts Department, said this improvement was keenly needed, since there has not been an adequate place for visual exhibits. “This is only my third year teaching at ETHS, but I’ve had my eye on a good space for a gallery since I came,” she said. “Perhaps I bent the right ears at the right time,” Ms. Sloan added, “because it’s really about to happen.”

The $200,000 allocation for the gallery – six times the cost of the original ETHS that opened its doors in 1883 – will house four to five shows a year. The gallery will have improved lighting, a flexible hanging system to display wall art, as well as a collection of pedestals for sculpture, which is a gift from the Boosters Club.

Although ETHS’s four cafeterias were on the docket for expensive signage and graphics upgrades, some good fortune in the form of corporate donations provided the funding and kept this project out of the CIP budget. Megan Gibbons, head of Nutrition Services, said, “The District saved about $40,000, and we got a great signage and graphic system.

The spiffy new signage at the Fresh Express station, she said, is a good magnet to get students to purchase the nutritious soups, salads, fresh fruits, smoothies and veggie choices that are good fuel for active brains.