On Dec. 7, the Finance Committee of the District 65 School Board considered the second draft of a school capacity study prepared by architects ARCON Associates, Inc. The study provides a comprehensive examination of the District’s 17 school buildings and the size and use of each room in the buildings. It also contains some preliminary estimates of the number of students each school building can accommodate.

The Committee asked ARCON to recalculate the estimates of capacity using different assumptions, specifically taking art and music rooms into account in estimating capacity and also excluding those rooms in estimating capacity.

The District plans to use this study, together with a demographic study being prepared by other consultants, to develop a long-term plan to ensure there is adequate space for students.

While the Committee asked ARCON to prepare additional estimates of capacity, a representative of ARCON said the study raised a red flag with respect to three attendance-area schools: Willard School, which he said was one student over capacity; Oakton School, which he said is 24 students away from over capacity; and Dewey School, which he said is 44 students away from over capacity.

In the last few years the Board has focused on Willard and Dewey schools as having a need for additional classroom space. The District recently constructed an addition to Dewey containing three classrooms and a library. For the coming year, Superintendent Hardy Murphy said the District could convert space at Willard to accommodate its needs.

Finance Committee members expressed a desire to see the demographic study and projections of student growth in each attendance area before determining a long-term plan to address the District’s space needs, but they asked the administration to prepare an analysis of the schools whose capacity was being stressed and to list potential options to address those needs.

Dr. Murphy said from a theoretical standpoint, some of the possibilities include building additional space onto a school, adding mobile classroom units to a school, redrawing the attendance areas of schools, putting a cap on the number of new students who could be admitted to a school, creating an overlay district and allowing students in the overlay district to elect to go to specified schools, and moving programs from a school.

He said, however, that the administration was not yet making any long-term recommendation, and he emphasized that the administration was not thinking of moving students away from Willard, and that it was not thinking of moving any program away from Willard.

In response to questions, ARCON’s representative said a preliminary estimate of the cost to build an addition onto Willard containing four classrooms, an elevator and an office would be about $2.5 million. He also said he prepared an estimate last October that the cost to build a new 36,000 square foot school would be about $9 million.

Dr. Murphy asked if a new school could be built without a referendum. An ARCON representative and Board member Andy Pigozzi said they were each aware of a school district that had built a new school without a referendum. ARCON’s representative said he would provide Dr. Murphy with the name of the school district so he could explore how it was done.

The Finance Committee plans to continue discussing this issue over the next few months with the benefit of ARCON’s additional calculations of school capacity, the administration’s analysis of school building needs and options, and the demographic study.

Larry Gavin

Larry Gavin was a co-founder of the Evanston RoundTable in 1998 and assisted in its conversion to a non-profit in 2021. He has received many journalism awards for his articles on education, housing and...