Evanston news delivered free to your inbox! 

After months of discussion, the District 65 School Board on Nov. 19 approved bids for work at Haven and Nichols middle schools to accommodate projected increases in student enrollment. The Board, however, rejected bids for work proposed at Chute Middle School and Lincolnwood Elementary School because the District has limited funds available for capital projects, and because Lincolnwood’s enrollment is projected to decline during the next five years.

The District is bumping up against the maximum amount it has available for capital projects without a referendum. Its projected capital needs over the next five years exceed the amount available for capital projects.

The Work at Nichols and Haven

Under the District’s most recent projections, Nichols enrollment is projected to increase from 542 students this year to 752 in five years, an increase of 210 students, said Lora Taira, the District’s chief information officer. Nichols will need five additional classrooms for the 2015-16 school year, and three more by the 2017-18 school year, plus additional cafeteria space to accommodate the influx of students, she said.

The work approved at Nichols includes constructing a new six-classroom addition, expanding the student cafeteria, providing a secure entrance and remodeling the main office area, building a new three-story stairway necessary in part to comply with fire code, renovating the library, providing new electrical service to the building and air conditioning to the cafeteria. The construction cost, including professional fees, is $3.9 million.

Haven’s enrollment is projected to increase from 743 this year to 840 over five years, an increase of 97 students, said Ms. Taira. Haven will need four additional classrooms, plus additional cafeteria space, to accommodate the projected increase in students, she said.

The work approved at Haven includes constructing a four-classroom addition, expanding the student cafeteria, providing a secure entrance and new main office area, remodeling the existing main office area into classrooms, dividing a large classroom to provide an office space, and providing air conditioning for the cafeteria. The work will not require changing the industrial arts classroom, said Mary Brown, chief financial officer. The construction cost, including professional fees, is $3.5 million.

The total construction cost of the work at Nichols and Haven is $7.4 million. When bid-related projects (such as asbestos abatement, purchasing furniture, technology and staffing costs) are included, the total cost is $8.3 million.

The scope of the work at Haven and Nichols is scaled back substantially from that proposed in the March 2012 referendum, which contemplated constructing new state-of-the-art classrooms for STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) instruction, plus other improvements. The estimated cost of the work proposed in the referendum was $10.3 million at each school, or a total of $20.6 million.

Financing the Capital Projects

In addition to the $8.3 million in work approved for Haven and Nichols, the District is planning additional work for the summer of 2013, estimated at $4.7 million. That work includes roofing and masonry work at Oakton, Dawes, Chute and Nichols ($2.3 million), technology expenses ($2 million) and additional projects.

The total estimated cost for all projects planned for this year is $13 million.

Dr. Brown said Speers Financial, the District’s bond financial advisor, advises that the District can issue bonds to finance capital projects up to $19.5 million under the District’s Debt Service Extension Base (DSEB) without going through a referendum. After allocating available cash on hand and issuing bonds sufficient to pay for the upcoming projects, the District will have $7.1 million remaining under its DSEB, said Dr. Brown. She said Speers Financial estimates that $2.5 million will become available for capital expenses in each of the District’s future levy years.

Over the next five years, the District will thus be able to access a total of $19.6 million under its DSEB.

At the Finance Committee meeting on Nov. 12, Dr. Brown presented schedules showing that the District’s capital needs substantially exceed the funding available under its DSEB. The schedules itemize roof and masonry work totaling $21 million, life-safety work totaling $17.1 million, and miscellaneous projects totaling $3.7 million under a five-year plan. Additional capital expenses are listed in a “standardization report.”

Chute and Lincolnwood

The District obtained bids for a safe entryway and reconfiguration of space around the entryway at Chute in the amount of $2.2 million, and for a safe entry and new classroom space at Lincolnwood in the amount of $1.4 million. The administration recommended that the bids for this work be rejected.

The recommendation was driven primarily by the District’s limited capital funding available under the District’s DSEB, and because Lincolnwood’s enrollment is projected to decrease by 54 students over the next five years.

Board member Tracy Quattrocki expressed a concern that if Lincolnwood’s enrollment bumped up there would be a need for an additional classroom. She said she did not want to be confronted with a classroom shortage at Lincolnwood in the fall of 2013. She and other Board members questioned the projections and whether the decline in students at the kindergarten level this year was due to factors that might not replay in future years.

Ms. Taira explained various ways in which she analyzed the projections of enrollment at Lincolnwood and said she was confident about them.

Several Board members said they wanted to ensure Chute would get a safe entryway in the future. Richard Rykhus said, “As we’re looking at our choices, I’d like to see secure entrances down for Chute.” In a similar vein, Kim Weaver said, “If we want all of our middle schools to have safe entryways, then it should be a priority at Chute.”

Dr. Murphy said space needs were driving the improvements at Haven and Nichols. “When we looked at addressing space needs at those schools, we looked at doing safe entryways at the same time,” he said. “The issue is not whether Chute will have a safe entry way, it’s when.”

Board president Katie Bailey said, the District was trying to address safe entryways, accessibility and other issues across the District. “You can’t do everything in one year.”

“I’m glad you said that,” said Board member and Finance Committee chair Andy Pigozzi. “I think these are all good projects. What’s driving the projects at Haven and Nichols is student enrollment. And when we’re doing these projects, we want to be smart and do some life/safety work.”

“It’s very disappointing we can’t do the work at Chute,” Mr. Pigozzi said. “I think we should look at other ways to do a safe entryway.”

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...