On June 14 the District 65 School Board approved Cordogan Clark & Associates to prepare a Master Facilities Plan for the District at a cost of $165,000. Cordogan Clark, with offices in Aurora and Chicago, provides architectural, engineering, and construction management services.

Raphael Obafemi, the District’s Chief Financial and Operations Officer, said, “The Master Facilities Plan itself is part of the process of reimagining what the District’s facilities look like, and it’s also part of the way to look at the student assignment process. And it’s also part of a way to look at costs and different ways we can reduce costs in the operation of the District, and manage our projected budget deficit into the future, as well as the structural deficit.”  

Mr. Obafemi said the District received proposals from five firms, and three of the firms were asked to present their proposals to the District’s Student Assignment Committee.  He said the administration took the Student Assignment Committee’s input into account in recommending that Cordogan Clark be selected as the most qualified bidder.

Representatives of Cordogan Clark made a presentation to the District’s Finance Committee on June 7. They summarized how they would conduct a facilities review, how they would gather data to make projections of student enrollment by attendance area, how they could assist in drawing new school attendance areas, and how they could assist in redesigning space for 21st century learning.

An Overview

Dennis Young, a principal of Cordogan Clark, opened the presentation saying, “This is a time to really understand that we have the power to change. And we can best do that if we collaborate and do that together in a master plan. And that’s what we set out to do.”

Cayce Horton, an architectural designer and coordinator of the architectural center for Cordogan Clark [and no relation to District 65 Superintendent Devon Horton], provided an outline of the process that the firm goes through in developing a master plan. “It’s very collaborative and we hope insightful journey,” she said.

Ms. Horton said, “Part of what we’ve been tasked with is to achieve a couple of certain goals that were in the [Request For Quote]. And a few of the highlighted ones that we wanted to really make a point of is improving educational outcomes for all the children in the District. All students need to have a local area school, high quality education programs and teachers, and they want all of those things in the proximity of their homes and neighborhoods.

“In order to achieve this plan, there’s a few steps that we think are very important that we would be working with the administration and the District to achieve. We’re going to do an evaluation of all the spaces. We will survey all the staff. We will be doing visioning sessions with the staff and discussing different expectations for what they are going to see in the future years. We also want to conduct surveys and focus groups. And with that, we’ll create the preliminary plan, which will be iterations and like I said, a journey to the final plan that we would then present to the Board of Education.”

Facilities Review

Ms. Horton said, “We’re going to assemble all the information that you guys already have. … And then we’re going to go to the buildings and do conditions assessments. We’re going to review the code for these buildings, figure out their usefulness, figure out their faults, you know, the goods and the bads. We need to do energy analysis of these buildings, are they working how they should be? Are they being used the way they need to be used? And then once we have the information on the buildings, we’re going to interview the staff. And so that would be the engagement portion.”

In their proposal, Cordogan Clark spelled out a detailed analysis they will conduct of the buildings and the building systems. They will also investigate space utilization, strategize future space needs based on the school’s changing needs, and assess the condition of learning environments, and 21st century practices.

At the Finance Committee meeting, representatives of Cordogan Clark said they will engage people and ask questions “so that we understand what their needs are. …  We take videos of the interviews, we sit down with students and parents and teachers, so we can capture their emotions and their facial expressions, so that we can keep it with us.”

They also emphasized that they think it is very important to obtain students’ point of view. “And so, we’re going to be talking to them, making sure that all of their needs are taken into account.” They said they will talk mostly with seventh graders “because they’re the experts on third grade. That’s where you’re going to get information really.”

“You don’t want all of us planning a school without asking them,” said Mr. Young.  

Ms. Horton said the Master Facility Plan is normally a big book or PDF, and it gives recommendations and cost analyses.  She said it is “your playbook for the future.” 

Ms. Horton said the plan will include “some 3D animations and 3D images on what the spaces do look like, what they could look like, what the students think they should look like, what the teachers think they look like.”

Ms. Horton said the plan will also integrate the District’s 10-year health and life safety items to “make sure we’re achieving healthy, safe spaces for the kids while we’re designing a new plan for the future.”

Enrollment Projections

A member of Cordogan Clark’s team, Dr. Charles Kofron, said they will provide enrollment projections by attendance area. “What I’m going to be doing is taking 10 years of your student addresses and years of births and placing them on a Cook County parcel map. And from that we’re going to overlay your attendance areas and count those students and those babies that were born in your attendance areas to develop what we call cohorts or classes. And from these we’re going to be developing cohort survival ratios, which are essentially the number of kids that survived from kindergarten to first, first, to second, second to third, and so on.

“We’re going to be projecting enrollments using this methodology by attendance area. So for all your attendance areas, we will have these projections, grade-specific, for your attendance areas.”

Dr. Kofron said they can use this data in preparing potential revisions to the attendance areas and considering various options.

Mr. Young added, “What I just want to make sure you understand this is a proprietary software that’s written to respond to your educational program and the number of students and their academic pathways. … And when we go to a community meeting, and they ask a question, “What if enrollment changes, and it’s going to grow 4%?’ We can type in 4%, and it will show us in year 10, how many rooms are you going to need. So, we don’t over-build and we don’t under-build. That’s how you determine capacity. You test your capacity off of your program and your enrollments. So that’s how it all comes back and ties together.”

Changing Attendance Areas

Dr. Kofron said, “Typically, redistricting involves, or student assignments involve more than one plan. You can come up with a conservative plan, which doesn’t move a lot of kids around, and come up with a moderate plan, which shifts your current boundaries, and then you can come up with a very aggressive plan for moving students based on planning parameters that you yourself set.

“So once this is done, you’ve got at least three plans, then you provide them maybe in a map charrette format.  … People can come in and take a look at these plans, and then give feedback to the Board on which plans they think are probably better. And then from that, it’s up to the Board to implement those plans. And to go forward.”

Mr. Young said the role of Cordogan Clark at community meetings regarding revised attendance area maps is, “We are there to listen, and more importantly, understand.” If parts of the proposed revisions are not supported, “We try to understand why and we come back. … That’s why in the engagement process, it takes time to work through … Sometimes people have their minds made up, but we just have to give them the respect of listening too, often trying to understand because they’re not wrong. They just have a different perspective. And we’re trying to understand that.”

Redesigning School Spaces

Representatives of Cordogan Clark gave examples of some of their projects that provided creative spaces to meet the needs of students and teachers.

One of the projects included flexible learning spaces, where a classroom may be divided into two smaller rooms. Because smaller group teaching has become more common, “We designed classrooms which are more adaptive to the use per different teachers’ needs.”  

Mr. Young said, “One of the things that we do, and you probably do as well, is we work in the future, so that we know what your vision and goals are, so we can be informed about the decisions that we need to make today to bring those outcomes about. So that’s what we’re doing.

He added, “We have to change the paradigm in how we are looking at certain spaces. So for instance, the cafeteria, maybe it’s not the cafeteria anymore, its primary space is a learning space. The tables and how you move things around, allows it to be a cafeteria from 10:30 in the morning to 1:00 or 1:30 in the afternoon. So that goes through the visioning process.

“And so, when we go to the visioning process, we’re going to challenge everyone’s perspective on these traditional spaces, because you have to think differently about them in order to move it forward,” said Mr. Young. “Same way on some other spaces, certainly the Library Media Center hasn’t had a careful change in paradigm for a long time. And so, all those spaces we need to look at differently. And I’m encouraged by what we can come up with.”

He added, “We can take a look at those spaces in a very innovative ways so that we don’t have to shut schools down the next time a pandemic hits.”

Ms. Horton said Cordogan Clark can show teachers and students what their space may look like using 3D animations, and they can give input when they see the animations. “When they see these real animations, they start to have ownership of the space.”

While it has been mentioned that a Master Facilities Plan would be used in deciding whether to close a District 65 school or schools, that topic was not discussed at the June 7 Finance Committee meeting and it is not mentioned in Cordogan Clark’s proposal.  

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...

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