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In a sweeping menu of projects that would span 20 years and cost more than $180 million, Evanston/Skokie School District 65 is considering a complete overhaul of the district’s facilities.
School officials got a look at the $189 million plan, and some of the processes behind developing it, on Feb. 15 during a personnel, building and grounds and finance committee meeting.
Deputy Superintendent Dr. LaTarsha Green stressed the report was purely for “planning and information purposes,” and was not something to which the district has committed.
At the meeting, school officials heard from Cordogan, Clark & Associates, an architectural, planning and engineering firm hired by the district to prepare a facilities master plan and compile data needed to move forward with the project.
The school district operates 18 schools and centers, mostly serving students in early childhood education, elementary and middle school grades.
Brian Kronewitter, Cordogan Clark Executive Vice President, said that all the district’s buildings, other than the Joseph E. Hill Early Childhood Center, are in poor condition, according to findings from a facilities condition assessment.
The assessment determines a building’s condition based on the cost of repairing it compared to the cost of rebuilding it, while considering factors such as outstanding maintenance issues, potential improvements and suitability updates.
Typically, the assessment looks ahead about 10 years, but the district asked Cordogan Clark to calculate the facility’s conditions based on a 20-year outlook, which brings down buildings ratings even more, Kronewitter said.
The typical life-span of a school building is 50 years, though a major renovation may boost its life another 20 to 25 years, Kronewitter said. On average, the district’s buildings are 77 years old.
According to the presentation, the average time since the last major building renovation occurred at all District 65 schools is 61 years. It showed that most buildings have not undergone a major renovation. The presentation did note that some buildings have had maintenance work done, and additions were completed at Haven, Dewey, Dawes, Lincoln, Lincolnwood, Oakton and Washington schools.
Cordogan Clark laid out recommendations for each school building over the next 20 years, including a year-by-year financial break-down. Kronewitter added costs may look higher because they include sustainability upgrades, such as installing LED light fixtures and improving insulation.
Enrollment projections guided plan
Charles Kofron, a demographer on Cordogan Clark’s team who attended the meeting virtually, presented findings from a study he led regarding birth data and enrollment projections.
Based on Kofron’s projections, the district population is aging, although the total population will not change significantly. Overall, elementary school and middle school enrollment will likely decline, though not all schools will report a decline in enrollment, according to his study.
Kofron said the district should continue to predict enrollment based on new birth data.
“That’s really the only sound way of doing empirical data-based modeling for decision-making, and I strongly recommend it,” he said.
The presentation also reviewed responses to community surveys completed last fall. Kronewitter presented some of the survey’s key findings, which showed that community members strongly support a neighborhood school in the Fifth Ward, and that they value having a school within walking distance.
Survey results also showed an interest in expanding the African-centered curriculum and offering the Two Way Immersion program at more schools. Additionally, community members preferred to keep the district lottery as is.
When asked what the District should prioritize as it pertains to facilities and supporting a diverse community of students, popular responses involved cleanliness, accessibility, safety and restrooms, Kronewitter showed in his presentation.
Kronewitter also summarized findings from a space-utilization and building-capacity study, which compared each school’s square-footage-per-student ratio with the recommended average. Most schools reported well above the average, though a couple of schools stood out.
The square-foot-to-student ratio at Walker and Willard elementary schools are 8% and 9% lower, respectively, than the recommended average, and at Nichols Middle School, it’s 19% lower.
The study also compared the capacity of each school building with that school’s enrollment. The total capacity at Nichols Middle School is 705 students, and the enrollment is 686, putting the current capacity rate at 97.27%, which the firm said is higher than ideal.
School leaders provide insight
Kronewitter also shared a list of observations and priorities found after interviewing school and district leaders, such as Superintendent Devon Horton, Director of Communications Melissa Messinger, and Chief Financial and Operations Officer Raphael Obafemi.
According to the interviews, leaders prioritized building a Fifth Ward school and connecting the Dawes Annex to the main building. They also pushed for the modernization of libraries and making spaces more accessible, creative, collaborative and sustainable.
Kronewitter also showed a list of improvements based on the suggestions made during the interviews. These improvements varied from school to school and included ceiling improvements, bathroom remodeling, new turf installation and improved lighting fixtures.
May dovetail with redistricting
Kronewitter briefly discussed the district’s Student Assignment Project (SAP), which aims to modernize the school district and potentially redraw district lines. The team working on the district’s Facilities Master Plan will work with the SAP team and begin developing school boundary scenarios.
Kronewitter and Kofron attended some of the SAP meetings and listed the criteria that should be considered when the SAP committee draws school boundary scenarios. These include current boundary lines, walkability to schools, school capacity, transportation needs and environmental impacts and the demographics in new boundary areas.
Deputy Superintendent Green spoke up, expressing her excitement for the ways in which the Facilities Master Plan may coincide with the Student Assignment Project.
Kronewitter presented a slide showing the financial implications of the project, which is estimated to cost the district $189 million.
The estimates are “very, very rough,” he added.
The $189 million also does not include increases due to inflation or the cost of additional projects such as a new Fifth Ward school, new elevators and new security improvements.
The Facilities Master Plan is still a work in progress, “but we’ve made a lot of headway,” Kronewitter said. “We’re excited about the opportunity.”