At its June 18 meeting, the District 65 School Board, by a unanimous vote, authorized TMP Architecture to prepare detailed drawings and specifications necessary to seek base bids and alternate bids for work at Haven, Nichols and Chute middle schools and Lincolnwood Elementary School. The Board also authorized the administration to seek bids for the work.

John Castellana of TMP Architecture estimated the cost for all of the proposed work at $10.4 million. Board President Katie Bailey explained, though, that by asking for base and alternate bids, the School Board could decide at a later date on the scope of work to be done at each school and select or reject various options based on the bids received.

The estimated architect fees are $708,481, which is included in the $10.4 million cost estimate, said Dr. Murphy in a memo to the Board. The fees will be about 20 percent less if the projects do not proceed to construction, he said.

The administration is expected to obtain bids in September and the Board is scheduled to decide on the scope of work and the bids to accept in October. This will enable the work to be completed by the start of the 2013-14 school year, said Mr. Castellana at an earlier Finance Committee meeting held on June 11.

The Proposed Work

Mary Brown, chief financial officer, and Mr. Castellana summarized the proposed base work and the possible alternate and additional options at each of the schools at the June 11 Finance Committee meeting.

Haven Middle School: Dr. Brown said Haven is projected to need expanded cafeteria space and five additional classrooms to accommodate the projected increase in enrollment during the next five years. The base option expands the cafeteria and adds five classrooms by converting existing space used for other purposes into classrooms. The estimated cost of the base model is about $1.4 million.

The alternate and additional options include: 1) rather than obtaining four of the five needed classrooms by converting existing space, build a new addition to Haven containing four classrooms at an estimated cost of about $1.1 million (not including site development and professional fees), and 2) constructing a safe entry to the school that would require reconfiguring office and administrative space at an estimated cost of about $720,000.

Nichols Middle School: Dr. Brown said Nichols is projected to need expanded cafeteria space and five additional classrooms to accommodate the projected increased enrollment. The base option includes expanding the cafeteria and adding a new stairway (necessary to comply with building codes) and an office. The estimated cost is $1.7 million.

The alternate and additional options for Nichols include: 1) adding a three-story addition to the school containing six classrooms at a cost of about $1.4 million (not including site work and professional fees), 2) constructing a safe entry and reconfiguring space at a cost of about $275,000, and 3) upgrading the media center at a cost of about $140,000. Unlike Haven, there does not appear to be existing space at Nichols that could be converted into classrooms.

Mr. Castellana said the proposed three-story, six-classroom building addition at Nichols is $2 million less than a two-story addition proposed last month. “This creates six classrooms in a very economical way,” he said.

Lincolnwood Elementary School: Dr. Brown said Lincolnwood is projected to need two additional classrooms to accommodate projected growth. The base option includes a two-classroom addition, a secure entrance, a new office and an elevator at an estimated cost of $1.1 million.

Chute Middle School: A new welcome center and secure entrance at Chute is estimated to cost $1.2 million, Mr. Castellana said. This will eliminate the entrance gate and bars at the school, which some students and parents said at a recent meeting creates the appearance of a prison-like structure.

Comments at the Finance Committee and Board Meetings

Jerome Summers said he supported expanding the cafeterias at the middle schools and installing safe entrances at the schools. Referring to the March 20 referendum, however, he said he opposed classroom additions. “I think the good people voted no to add classrooms,” he said. “This looks like a back-door way to get around the referendum.” He suggested the Board wait another year to create a vision for the District.

Richard Rykhus said the referendum voted down the addition of a total of 34 classrooms, but said the community did not vote down adding 10 classrooms. He noted that the Board can see the capacity needs of the middle schools by looking at the number of students coming through the elementary schools.

Mr. Rykhus said, though, he wanted to examine the option of “grandfather redistricting” of Lincolnwood’s attendance area to see if that might address the space needs at the school. By grandfather redistricting, he said he meant students currently attending Lincolnwood would have the option to continue attending the school.

Kim Weaver said the middle school projects in the referendum were $26 million, and the projects currently proposed were about $10 million. “We’re not doing anything elaborate,” she said. “We have a responsibility to those kids currently in the elementary schools when they show up at the middle schools.”

Andy Pigozzi said he was disappointed the District was not able to be bolder and provide the upgrades contemplated by the referendum, which he said would have greatly increased the District’s instructional facilities. He said, though, “I don’t think we can sit back. We don’t have the time to do another soul-searching exercise. … This is the best we can do at this point.”

Mr. Pigozzi added, “We may have to make some tough decisions when the bids come back.”

Superintendent Hardy Murphy said District 65 has been funding improvements and additions to the school buildings in the last five years through its Debt Service Extension Base (DSEB). He cautioned that the District’s ability to continue to do so is limited.

Under Illinois law, a school district’s DSEB limits the amount of funds it may borrow absent a referendum.

Last month, District 65 administrators presented a chart showing that if the District spent $8.4 million to add space and provide safe entrances at Haven and Nichols middle schools, made scheduled roofing and masonry repairs, and made scaled-back investments in technology, the District would have the ability to borrow only about $50,000 to meet the District’s capital needs under the DSEB by the start of school in 2016. The borrowing limit would increase by about $2.5 million each year, said Mary Brown, chief financial officer.

The $50,000 is well below a reserve of about $6 million that Board members said they wanted to maintain under the DSEB to provide for contingencies.

At the June 18 Board meeting, Dr. Murphy said the District may be put in a position where it has to pay for building and other capital projects out of operating funds, which would reduce the amount of money available for instructional purposes. Other options include prioritizing and deferring certain capital expenditures and asking voters to approve increased borrowing for capital expenditures in a referendum.

Work is Scaled Back From That Proposed in Referendum

The scope of work currently proposed at Haven and Nichols is scaled back from that proposed in the March 20 referendum. In the referendum, the work proposed at these schools included the addition of eight classrooms at each school, four of which were science labs that could be used for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) instruction, expanded common areas, and safe entry ways. The work proposed in the referendum at the two schools had a combined price tag of $20.6 million.

The work proposed at Chute as part of the referendum has also been scaled back. The referendum work at Chute included plans to upgrade the science instructional areas at the school for use as STEM classrooms and to provide a safe entrance at estimated cost of $3.1 million.

No work was proposed at Lincolnwood as part of the referendum. It was contemplated that the need for additional space at Lincolnwood would have been addressed by the creation of a new school in the Fifth Ward.

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...