On Feb. 5, Raphael Obafemi, Chief Financial and Operations Officer of District 65, presented a Five-Year Capital Improvement Plan to the District’s Finance Committee that prioritizes School District 65’s construction projects for the next five years. The Referendum that was approved by the voters in April 2017 included an allocation of $1,025,000 per year for capital improvements, and the five-year plan proposes projects with a total cost of $5,130,600. 

“This is not a pretty recommendation,” said Mr. Obafemi, acknowledging the need to make difficult decisions to prioritize projects in light of the limited financing available to the District.

 The projects are far less than those on the District’s radar. Mr. Obafemi’s memo to the Board notes that the most recent 10-year life/safety survey of the District’s 17 buildings conducted by Arcon, an architectural and engineering firm, identified work totaling about $38.3 million. In addition, Mr. Obafemi says the District’s Master Building Work Summary includes other projects estimated to cost $66.9 million. On a combined basis, the total work is $105.2 million.

The Life/Safety Survey

When Richard Cozzi, an architect with Arcon, presented the 10-year life/safety survey to the Board last year, he said that the Illinois State Board of Education requires school districts to hire an architect to inspect their school buildings every 10 years and to identify work that is “urgent,” “required,” or “recommended.” Work classified as “urgent” is directly related to the health or safety of a student and must be done within one year. Work classified as “required” must be completed within five years. Work classified as “recommended,” he said, “is just that, recommended, not required to be completed.”

Arcon did not categorize any work in District 65 life/safety survey as “urgent,” and, after some reclassifications, only about $270,000 of work is categorized as “required,” Mr. Cozzi said. The vast bulk of the work is thus in the “recommended” category.

The type and estimated cost of work identified in Arcon, life/safety survey is summarized as follows:

• Architectural work: $27.9 million. Approximately $24.4 million of architectural work is for roofing and masonry work; and about $500,000 is to provide safe entrances to schools. The balance is replacing stairway guardrails, removing asbestos-containing material, replacing portions of ceilings, and various other building repairs.

• Site work: $2.3 million. This work is primarily to repair pavement for parking lots, fixing uneven surfaces used for playfields, and repairing drainage.

• Mechanical work: $7.4 million. The vast majority of this work is to replace classroom ventilation units that are used to heat, and in some cases cool, classrooms.

• Plumbing work: $162,000. Most of the work in this category is to make various repairs to boilers and hot water heaters.

• Electrical work: $613,000. The vast majority of this work is to replace existing lighting with energy efficient lighting.

In addition to the work identified in the life/safety survey, the District’s Master Building Work Summary identifies a total of $66.9 million in projects that are needed or desired for the District’s school buildings.

 The larger expenditures on the District’s master summary are $25.7 million to provide air conditioning for entire buildings, $11 million to provide sprinkler systems for entire buildings, $7.3 million to add music and art rooms to schools lacking them, $3.8 million to add a lunch room, $3.1 million for plumbing related repairs, $3 million for air-handling units, $2.3 million to add an elevator, $1.6 million for additional parking, $1.3 million to convert an auditorium into a multipurpose room, and $1 million for cabinetry and countertops.

About $4.8 million of the work on the master summary is categorized as falling into a mid-level priority, said Mary Brown, when she was Chief Financial Officer last year, and the balance is in the lowest of three priority levels.  

Work In the Five-Year Plan  

Mr. Obafemi said, the projects in the five-year plan “include completing as many of the ‘required’ life safety projects included in the recently approved 10-Year Safety Survey as financially feasible, along with the double vestibule entrances at the five remaining schools, asbestos abatement, and masonry work.

“The focus of the plan is to address high priority building envelope (external structure) and mechanical needs the District faces,” Mr. Obafemi said. “In developing this plan, we have taken great care to ensure students have a high quality and safe learning environment to support their education. Remaining work such as roofing will be scheduled according to priority, as funding permits.”

In the first year of the plan, the District will reconfigure the main entrances at King Arts and Washington to create a double vestibule entrance for school security, and remove existing asbestos containing materials at eight schools, at a total cost of $1,020,000.

In the second year, the District will reconfigure the main entrances at Bessie Rhodes, Lincolnwood, and Orrington schools, as well as remove asbestos, perform limited masonry work, and replace mezzanine guard rails at one school, at a total cost of $1,026,000.

Projects are also identified for the third, fourth and fifth years.

Superintendent Paul Goren said each of the five schools whose entrances will be reconfigured currently have secure entrances, but adding double vestibules will increase the safety of those buildings.

Board members asked questions about how projects were prioritized, but did not ask that any changes be made to the five-year plan. Board President Suni Kartha noted that no capital improvements were scheduled to make the school building more accessible to students with a disability. She suggested the Board discuss this at a future date.

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...