After a three-hour discussion on Sept. 20, it appears that the Finance Committee of the District 65 School Board will recommend that construction documents be prepared to add classroom space to Dewey and Willard schools to address the space needs at those schools. The full scope of the work to be done at those schools, however, is still an open question. The Committee asked the administration to present a breakdown of the costs and less costly alternatives for the full School Board to consider on Sept. 27. 

The administration has been pressing for a decision by Sept. 27 so that it can start the process rolling and ensure that the construction work to be performed at those schools is complete by the start of the 2011-12 school year. 

Space Needs at the Schools

 The administration presented the Finance Committee with a set of charts that analyze the capacity of five schools to meet projected enrollment over the next five years: Dewey, Lincoln, Lincolnwood, Orrington and Willard. For each school, the analysis plotted the projected student enrollment at each grade level, year by year; the projected number of classrooms needed to accommodate the students at each grade level, year by year; and the number of existing classrooms and rooms that could be converted to classrooms in the school. 

Mary Brown, chief financial officer, said Willard was projected to need six additional classrooms over the next three years, starting with two classrooms this year. She said the two classrooms needed this year were obtained by converting the staff lounge and the art room into classrooms. She said two more classrooms are projected to be needed for the fall of 2011 and two more for the fall of 2012. 

Dewey is projected to need two additional classrooms by 2013. Dr. Brown said there is no art room at Dewey and that several classrooms are operating at or near class size guidelines. “There is no flexibility for additional students,” said Dr. Brown, and there is a projected increase in enrollment of 40 students by 2014. Since the school was operating at near full capacity, the administration was recommending the building addition be started now, she said. 

A memo presented by Dr. Brown indicates there is not an immediate need for additional classrooms at Lincoln, Lincolnwood or Orrington schools, but these schools will be monitored to determine if they need additional classrooms. 

The Administration’s Recommendation, Finance Committee Reactions 

The administration recommended that an addition be built at Dewey to create three new classrooms, a second stairway be added between the second and third floors, the auditorium be converted into a multi-purpose room (for lunch) and a music room, and the current lunch room be converted into classroom space, at an estimated cost of $3.7 million. 

The administration also recommended that an addition be built at Willard to create four new classrooms, a multipurpose room for lunch, a new main office and secure front entrance, a new staff lounge and the conversion of the current lunchroom and main office into classrooms, at an estimated cost of $6.2 million. 

Members of the Finance Committee appeared to concur that there was a need to address space needs at Dewey and Willard, but raised questions about the scope of the work and the cost. Concerns were also raised about the impact moving ahead with the additions would have on a potential referendum to build a new 18 classroom school in the Fifth Ward. 

Jerome Summers said the issue of a new school in the Fifth Ward had not been addressed in the materials presented to the Finance Committee. “If there is a new school in the Fifth Ward and if kids in that ward go to that school, what is the need for additions at Willard and Dewey schools after that,” he said. 

The District’s architect estimated that the cost of a new “basic” 18 classroom school at $14 million. In an Aug. 9 memo, Dr. Brown said, “This school [at that time a 14 classroom school] would provide space relief for all District 65 schools and will eliminate the need for additions/renovations at other schools.” 

School Board member Tracy Quattrocki said she thought the issue of building additional classrooms at Dewey and Willard should be considered together with the issue of building a new school in the Fifth Ward – that the two should not be considered in isolation. She said if the District does not need 26 new classrooms, then building new classrooms at Willard and Dewey would reduce the chance for a successful referendum to build a new school in the Fifth Ward. 

Finance Committee Chair Katie Bailey said that was a valid point, “I think that’s a risk. I think we have to say that’s a risk.” She added though, “There’s an immediate space need at Willard and Dewey.”

 The timing issue has put the Board in corner. Dr. Murphy said the District needs space at Dewey and Willard for the fall of 2011. He said if a referendum for a new school passes in April (the earliest date for a referendum), the District would not have the new school ready by the fall of 2011. If the referendum did not pass in April, the District would not have time to complete the additions to Dewey and Willard by Sept. 1, if it started the process until after the vote on the referendum.  

Board member Andy Pigozzi, a school architect by profession, added that he thought construction contracts to add space to Dewey and Willard would need to be entered into by March 1 to get the work done by Sept. 1. 

Mr. Pigozzi also gave his analysis on the need for space. He said Willard is going to need two classrooms next year, and Dewey looks like it will need two classrooms by 2013. “The others are debatable,” he said. “We’re not showing we need all these classrooms.” 

He added that the proposed cost of $14 million for a new 18 classroom school in the Fifth Ward was not calculated using the same methodology as the proposed costs for work at Willard and Dewey. We’re not getting “apples to apples” cost comparisons,” he said. 

Other members of the Committee expressed concerns about the estimated cost of the work proposed at Dewey and Willard schools. They asked the administration to present less costly alternatives and to break out the cost of the work, so the Board could make decisions on the scope of the work. 

It appears the Committee will recommend that the District move ahead with preparing construction documents for the work to be performed at Dewey and Willard, but it did not reach a consensus on the scope of the work to be performed at either school. It is anticipated that the Board will consider these issues at its Sept. 27 meeting. Some members of the Committee allowed for the possibility that the scope of work – and even whether to proceed with the projects – could be decided after construction bids were received. 

Ms. Bailey also emphasized that the Board needed to have a healthy discussion about a referendum for a new school at the Sept. 27 meeting. Ms. Quattrocki asked the administration to present an analysis of whether the District needed space at Dewey and Willard and in addition needed a new 18 classroom school.

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...