Big price tag for OPRF facilities plan

The first 3 of 5 phases of 10-year plan to cost estimated $145M

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By Michael Romain

Staff Reporter

For the first time since it formed in August 2017 to develop a long-term master facilities plan at Oak Park and River Forest High School, the Imagine OPRF working group has released hard cost estimates and a draft 10-year master plan. 

The plan is divided into five different "sequences" that would allow it "to be implemented flexibly over a 6-10 year period," according to documentation released by Imagine OPRF on Sunday. 

"The sequences are designed to enable [the] school to function during construction, to have facilities reasonably whole during periods between sequences, and to allow pauses between some sequences to give students, faculty and staff respite between construction projects," according to the documentation.

Cost estimates are only available for the first three construction sequences, which cover a four-year schedule. The estimated cost of the projects within those first three sequences totals roughly $145 million. 

During an interview on Sept. 9, Imagine OPRF co-chairs Lynn Kamenitsa and Mike Poirier explained why the group did not provide cost estimates beyond the first three sequences. 

"We do not have cost estimates for sequences four and five because they're further down the road," Kamenitsa said. "There are a lot of things that can change between now and then; not only in terms of what the costs might be, but in terms of the plan. A master plan is a living document. This is the best we have right now." 

According to Imagine OPRF documents, the cost estimates for the first three sequences of the draft plan were derived from the square footage and conceptual plans created by Perkins & Will architects. The unit costs were derived from historical bids from public schools that have been built in the Chicago suburbs. 

In addition, members noted, the cost estimates include a 4 percent per year escalation of labor and material costs, a total of 12 percent for design and construction contingencies, construction manager fees and soft costs, such as testing, engineering and municipality fees. 

Timeframes for all five of the sequences could vary. Imagine OPRF members conceptualized completion schedules based on three different scenarios: aggressive, which would entail completing all five sequences in the plan within six years; model, within eight years; and conservative, within 10 years. 

The first sequence contains four primary components, including a new and relocated two-story Student Resource Center (i.e., the library) and Tutoring Center, which will be built above the existing South Cafeteria; renovated and expanded space for Special Education administration and Transitional Education with Access to the Mainstream (TEAM) program spaces; new visual arts spaces on the third floor; and 76 renovated classrooms on the second, third and fourth floors.

The first sequence would extend out into the third year of the plan, with the working group allocating around a year-and-a-half for the design and bidding process and another 14 months for construction. This sequence is the only one among the five where the aggressive, moderate and conservative scenarios all project the same timeframe for completion. The total estimated cost for the first sequence is $28.5 million. 

"Outside of physical education, the only expansion of the school is this two-story library and tutoring center over the South Cafeteria," Poirier said. "It does not change the footprint. It goes right up over the South Cafeteria. It's important that this is first for a number of reasons, one is because a whole bunch of dominos fall behind that." 

Poirier said the library expansion and relocation would free up space for new, well-lit classrooms and larger Special Education and TEAM programming space, which is currently undersized.

The second sequence would focus on improving the physical education spaces. The current facilities east of the field house will be replaced with a new, 4-story facility that will house new changing rooms and lockers (including transgender ones), a new three-court competition gym, a new swimming pool, spaces for PE and athletic offices and support spaces like conference rooms and laundry facilities, a weight room, a multipurpose dance room and storage space.

The design, bidding and construction phases for the second sequence could take anywhere from three years (according to the aggressive scenario) up to four years (according to the conservative scenario). The total cost for the second sequence is an estimated $66.7 million. 

"For one school year, there's going to be some significant disruption in physical education and athletics that folks are going to have to figure their way around, but the key thing is that at the end of this sequence, almost everything that was torn down here, functionally, is replaced here — and a little bit more because all of the new locker rooms are included," Poirier said.

That construction, however, would not significantly disrupt the academic environment, Kamenitsa said, adding that Imagine has outlined contingency plans for dealing with the construction. 

She noted that architects "have looked at the whole building and decided that, given the size of the project, we can do this without temporary classrooms and those kinds of things. So we've thought about it and have experts who looked at it, but we are not looking at, say, where do we put volleyball instruction?"

The third sequence would build a new 4-story structure on the west end of the field house that will house more space for physical education and athletics, including a new multipurpose wrestling room, team equipment storage space, a multipurpose gymnastics space and an adaptive gymnasium and cardio room. 

The design, bidding and construction phases for the third sequence could extend out to the third or fourth year of the plan, depending on the scenario. The total cost estimate for this sequence is $49.6 million. 

The fourth sequence would include relocating the administrative offices near the main entrance, and renovating 26 classrooms, seven science labs and faculty office space. 

The final sequence would include renovating the remaining classrooms, faculty offices and commons area, relocating the three-court competition gymnasium built in the second sequence to the first floor of the existing field house, building a new 200-meter indoor track facility, installing new synthetic surface on the west field area and renovating the trainer and locker rooms below the stadium seating.

Kamenitsa and Poirier said they're prepared for the likely sticker-shock some residents may have in reaction to the cost estimates, but they're hoping the board chooses to fund the early phases of the plan with a portion of the district's significant fund balance. They did not specify how much of the fund balance they hope the board uses.

"At some point, some sort of referendum is almost certainly going to be required," Poirier said. "We're not insensitive to this situation, but I think for people in the community, this will come down to a value judgment. Is this a good value investment for this community, and we're hopeful the majority of the people will think this is." 

Poirier added that the OPRF campus "has not had a consequential investment in 51 years — it looks and functions like it." 

Kamenitsa said equity is at the center of the master plan. Referencing the Starz documentary, America to Me, she said some people may try to frame the master plan as an either/or proposition — "equity or facilities."

"We at Imagine see it the opposite way," she said, noting that the working group operated from the perspective that physical space can play a significant role in facilitating or mitigating inequities. Kamenitsa said the group spoke to hundreds of marginalized students who expressed that they don't feel welcome on the campus as it exists.  

"The facilities literally shape what policies can be implemented inside of them," she said. "Space matters." 

A community engagement meeting, designed to get public feedback on the draft master plan, is scheduled to take place at OPRF on Oct. 3. 

CONTACT: michael@oakpark.com    

Reader Comments

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Neal Buer from Oak Park  

Posted: September 19th, 2018 12:16 PM

Let's hold off the rush to spend money until after the D200 Board elections. The candidates should clearly state whether they are for or against this project. Nothing else will matter to the voters. Then the voters can decide by proxy if they want this project to go forward.

Kline Maureen  

Posted: September 17th, 2018 9:16 AM

what makes this seem like a bit of a sham is to read ""We do not have cost estimates for sequences four and five because they're further down the road," Kamenitsa said...." yet the "aggressive" timeline shows all FIVE sequences beginning within FIVE YEARS (and four of them completed in that time frame). I respect all the work the Imagine team members have put in over the last year, but this type of thing certainly makes me think something is being kept from us - and that $145 million is just a small part of the grand total. $145 million is scary enough without trying to guess how high it could get before the project is complete.

Marc Martinez from Oak Park  

Posted: September 14th, 2018 11:39 AM

The bloated and outrageous plan has been well challenged in many of the posts, so I won't repeat them. But I am also outraged at the cavalier proposal to spend the excess reserves held by OPRF. This was also part of the previous pool project proposal. In 2013 the D200 board admitted that they had more than $100 million in excess reserves - that is also excess taxes. That was 116% of annual spending. They promised to return the money to taxpayers over 10 years?! After two years of slightly lower taxes they raised taxes 17%. Now they have over $93 million, 114% of annual spending. But, once again, Imagine assumes the right to spend this excess tax money that should have been returned to the taxpayers. And then spend even more to further increase taxes. The D200 board says 'be happy, we are over taxing you now so we don't have to raise your taxes later'. Shameless disregard for the tax burden on residents.

Jane Gorham Ditelberg from River Forest  

Posted: September 14th, 2018 8:49 AM

Bruce you have given words to my biggest fear. They haven't even tried to estimate the whole cost. They will pay for the demolition without taxpayer approval and then tell us how much it will take to make the building usable. Whole new high schools are built for less money than this.

Bruce Kline  

Posted: September 14th, 2018 12:27 AM

Jason: All you have to do is start the project. Once started, you're almost forced to finish. For instance, midway through the project you'll get a pleading from IMAGINE and the BoE: "we got to pass this referendum because there is a huge hole there, and we can't just let it sit there." The community will be in a bind. They will be "forced" to say YES. Jason I was heavily involved in helping to defeat the 2016 referendum. Recall that in late 2015 the BoE at the time totally bypassed the voters and tried to build a giant pool with non referendum bonds. It was only because of the out rage of over 4000 citizens and their signatures (via Petition for Referendum) that forced the Board to back down and eventually submit the proposed pool project to the people via the ballot (as it should have originally been done in the first place). But please remember, the initial attempt - by the BoE - was to avoid the people! (and some of the board members that were involved in that shameful decision still sit on the present board). That experience makes me much less confident than you in saying that this project is DOA. (although I would hope that you are right and I am wrong). We really should get together to discuss our ideas, face to face, because I can assure you this is going to take a huge community-wide effort to defeat this monster.. Believe me.

Jason Cohen  

Posted: September 13th, 2018 11:32 PM

@Bruce, I hear you that it might be technically possible to do a lot of this without a vote but I can't see how they could get away with it. The village would rebel against that. Even those on the fence about the plan would have to take issue with spending this much money without a public vote. I really don't think it makes it that far. They won't risk bringing it to a vote if they know it will fail. I genuinely don't know a single person who would vote for this and most of the people I know voted for the last referendum. This just feels like a big waste of time.

Bruce Kline  

Posted: September 13th, 2018 9:11 PM

(Continued): Oh and of course there is the old standby, which does involve some voters. If ultimately a referendum is unavoidable, well I can imagine that IMAGINE and the BoE will pull out the ole playbook. And from that playbook they will draw up the ole school referendum play: bring the referendum to the voters in an off year ?" typically a spring election where most of the voters are still hibernating. And the only turn out is the true believer. That play works virtually all the time. I agree with you and most of the posters here. The IMAGINE plan is an abomination and affront to virtually all of the citizens in D200. It is the metaphorical equivalent of a slow moving class 4 hurricane, with landfall in the not too distant future. Unless we prepare and really organize against this storm, we will be inundated and overwhelmed by the tax surge sure to follow.

Bruce Kline  

Posted: September 13th, 2018 9:09 PM

Jason, Lynn Kamenitsa and company jumped the shark Monday night. No doubt about that. Given our tax crisis in Oak Park, the plan presented, amounts to a dismissal of such every day "mundane" concerns ? like taxes. It was the height of arrogance. So this leads to your question. Who is going to vote for this? Well virtually no one. So in order to get from plan to bricks and mortar, the key is to bypass the voter. How? Well the financial consultant (whose clear and focused presentation was really excellent) on Monday night pointed to the likely "roadmap." it is conceivable to use $30 million from reserves (the board can decide to use whatever amount they want, they have $107 million to work with) and up to $40 million from non referendum bonds (here we go again, deja vu 2015). Well that's $70 mil right there with nary a single vote and with out breaking a sweat! And then maybe one can squeeze a few more mil via "debt certificates" (which are paid off via budgetary appropriation independent of any separate tax levy) and should also be voter independent. The point is, the true believer, and their allies in the swim lobby, and their hard working and well meaning (but in my view misguided) members of the BoE, I suspect, are thinking of all sorts of ways to circumvent the voters and get this monster funded.

Jane Gorham Ditelberg from River Forest  

Posted: September 13th, 2018 7:07 PM

I had to look at the calendar when I saw this plan because it couldn't be anything but an April Fool. And the Imagine Team must think we all are fools. After voters sent a clear message that the price tag on the pool plan was outrageous, their answer is to come back with this plan to spend over a hundred million dollars on new athletic facilities. To add insult to injury, they "hope" the board will spend its surplus to get this started, so we will end up with major demolition before any taxpayers get to vote on the price of the plan. The straw that breaks the camel's back is the failure to ben estimate j. Today's dollars what the last two phases will cost, essentially asking for "blank check" approval. To plan this at a time when we are told in the America to Me film that funding for reading programs for our most vulnerable students is in danger of being cut is outrageous and shameful

Neal Buer  

Posted: September 12th, 2018 8:58 PM

@Joel, you are correct. We need to educate these kids, not provide them with a country club.

Charlie Kohler  

Posted: September 12th, 2018 8:43 PM

@jason Right now I wish the comments section had a "like" button (a la Facebook). I think yours would get a lot of happy faces.

Margy Feley  

Posted: September 12th, 2018 8:25 PM

Bring me the smelling salts, I think I'm going to faint because of the price tag of this preposterous plan.

Jason Cohen  

Posted: September 12th, 2018 6:20 PM

The best part of the Imagine Plan is that it's managed to unify the left and the right cause this is bonkers. Who is really going to vote for this? I just can't see who's going to get behind this and want to foot the bill. I mean the pool plan alone failed and now we are adding $200 million to that. Sounds like a real winning idea. :-)

Joel A. Schoenmeyer  

Posted: September 12th, 2018 5:10 PM

@NealBuer There is certainly SOME benefit to sports and other extracurricular activities. The problem is that what some might view as a sensible amount to spend on an upgrade of the high school's PE facilities ($2 million? $5 million? maybe even $10 million?) is considered insufficient by certain people. One thing that surprised me about last night: if I understand correctly, OPRF could afford to spend $40 million out of its budget surplus right now to improve the school. If that money was spent strategically, imagine (no pun intended) how that might improve educational outcomes for all OPRF students! That kind of money, combined with a great plan and the school's already talented and committed faculty, could be life-changing for our students -- and a huge benefit to our community.

Neal Buer  

Posted: September 12th, 2018 4:50 PM

Why don't we just focus on education instead of facilities? German high schools don't even have sports teams.

Joel A. Schoenmeyer  

Posted: September 12th, 2018 4:48 PM

@LynnKamenitsa I didn't include the second part of your response because that wasn't my focus, but I will certainly acknowledge that you were NOT recommending the Board cut math and/or English classrooms. My point was that I heard no mention of potentially cutting ANY of the $69 million in proposed PE funding -- I'm sure we can agree that any cost-cutting will need to start there, since shaving money from (relatively) small line items would not move the needle in terms of savings. As for your claim that the Imagine Team has a strong commitment to academics: Sequences 1 - 3 require spending almost $150 million of taxpayer money to improve OPRF, with the combined spending on math, science and English adding up to 3.7% of the total outlay, (PE is about 48%, followed by "Community/Shared Space" at 21% and Performing Arts at 10%.) The documents supplied by your group illuminate a number of things, but a commitment to academics is not among them.

Dan Davies from Oak Park  

Posted: September 12th, 2018 4:14 PM

I agree with Poirier that this would be a great investment when given the choice of current facilities and better-than-current facilities. But that is a false choice. By placing them as a 'love education/don't care about the kids' option, it trivializes the very real financial struggles a lot of families are having with the cost of the current services we enjoy in Oak Park. We all want world class schools, parks, police, fire etc, but unless you want OP to be another exclusively high income ZIP code, we aren't ever going to be able to afford the investments needed to get them. Instead, we need to look at the tax revenue the demographics here can support, and ask ourselves how close we can get with the money we have.

Lynn Kamenitsa  

Posted: September 12th, 2018 3:57 PM

@Joel Schoenmeyer: You have taken my comment last night out of context. I was replying to a Board member's direct mention of math and English classrooms in a question about what could be cut from the facilities plan. In my response, I noted that the Board "could" cut math and English classrooms, but that I would NOT recommend that. I reiterated the point later. Your failure to include the second part of my sentence could mislead readers. The Imagine Team's strong commitment to academics is clear in the documents we have posted on the OPRF website at Imagine OPRF.org. I invite readers to learn more there and at our upcoming Community Conversation on Wednesday, October 3, 7-9 pm at OPRF, 201 N. Scoville Ave.

Charlie Kohler from Oak Park  

Posted: September 12th, 2018 3:22 PM

Going with the $250 Million estimate pointed out below, that would put the remodel of OPRF as the 3rd most expensive high school construction project in the country - ever. https://www.publicschoolreview.com/blog/5-most-expensive-high-schools-in-america For comparison, the current 3rd most expensive school built was $232 Million (Central No. 9 Visual and Performing Arts High School in Los Angeles). Please let that sink in.

Robert Douglas  

Posted: September 12th, 2018 3:19 PM

If my math is correct, that's about $2,330 extra per resident in Oak Park and River Forest combined. Is that correct? Thus, a family of 3 would enjoy a $7,000 burden. And that's just for the first 60% of the project? How exactly do we plan to accomplish this without forcing out a significant number of residents who are financially burdened already? Property taxes aren't based directly on income. This will impact everyone, including the most vulnerable. Higher rent. Higher property taxes. I was under the impression that the goal was to increase equity, not invoke a class shift to a more affluent population by forcing out the lower-earning families.

Nick Polido  

Posted: September 12th, 2018 12:00 PM

I'll be operating on my own 3 sequence plan. 1.) Graduate my senior and last son from OPRF H.S. 2.) Identify new location for me and the bride. (preferably out of state before JB and Harmons fair tax) 3.) Sell current home.

Chuck Mann from Willow Springs  

Posted: September 12th, 2018 11:34 AM

I miss living in OP, but I really don't miss the extremely high property taxes, and the appear likely to only go higher if this plan is approved.

Brian Souders  

Posted: September 12th, 2018 10:34 AM

Did anyone ask what the cost would be to build a new high school from scratch? Wouldn't it have to be less than a quarter BILLION dollars? Just build a brand new one with no compromises on the West side of the property (athletic fields).

Ramona Lopez  

Posted: September 12th, 2018 10:17 AM

I agree 100% Joel. I don't think that much spent on athletics is going to do much to diminish the achievement gap everyone allegedly wants to fix.

Bill Dwyer  

Posted: September 12th, 2018 9:07 AM

In the immortal words of Jeff Dunham's character Peanut, "holy crap!"

Joel A. Schoenmeyer  

Posted: September 12th, 2018 8:53 AM

I attended last night's presentation, and two things stuck out at me: (1) The materials break down costs (thus far) by department, and I note that the plan's costs associated with phys ed are $69 million, while the costs associated with science are $698,000. Let that sink in. (2) During the presentation, the co-chair was asked by a board member what costs might be cut. Her response was something to the effect of, maybe we could cut some expenses related to math or English? (I note that the spending for those two areas is about $3.2 million and $1.5 million, respectively.) Perhaps I am alone in this feeling, but the primary purpose of OPRF is to educate our students and prepare them for the future. This plan has some very necessary elements -- like ADA compliance, and updating the efficiency of certain facilities -- but make no mistake about it: the heart of the plan is a massive (and to my mind, massively irresponsible) spend on athletics.

Monica Sheehan  

Posted: September 12th, 2018 8:21 AM

The Imagine co-chair's quote defending why the group doesn't have cost estimates for Sequences 4 & 5, because they are "further down the road", is disingenuous for two reasons. First, the graphic posted with this story depicts three different plan phasing scenarios proposed by Imagine's architectural and cost estimating consultants. In the "aggressive" scenario, ALL five sequences would be completed within six years, that's not "further down the road" for Sequences 4 & 5. If Imagine's consultants can't estimate costs for these two final sequences and release them to the public now, then both Perkins + Will and ICI should be fired and replaced with firms who are capable of doing the job. Second, documented recent history underscores that cost estimates for Sequences 4 & 5 can indeed be determined at this time. Legat, D200's architect of record, released many Long Term Facility Plans in 2016, and ALL plans included cost estimates for every "sequence" or "phase" regardless of Year 1 or Year 10 of implementation. (Note, my comment below referred to "sequences" as "phases" in regards to Imagine's plan, and I regret any confusion.) Lastly, the Imagine co-chair's statement that the OPRF campus "has not had a consequential investment in 51 years" is incorrect. In 1998, the school board issued non-referendum bonds of $18.5 million to fund the 1998 Master Facility Plan, $28 million in current dollars. Moreover EVERY YEAR for at least the last decade, D200 has spent an average of $6 million, of our overtaxed dollars in the cash reserve, improving and maintaining the building and grounds. Tally up those numbers and "consequential" investments in the neighborhood of $90 million have been made in the school over the last two decades.

Tom MacMillan  

Posted: September 12th, 2018 7:56 AM

Kamenitsa needs to go away

Bruce Kline  

Posted: September 11th, 2018 11:28 PM

To paraphrase Crazy Eddie (from my New York days): "IMAGINES's prices are ins-a-a-a-ane."

Doug Springer from Oak Park  

Posted: September 11th, 2018 9:39 PM

We have officially reached crazy. The fact that the town is already incredibly overtaxed and the presented spend for 60% of the "plan" is $145 MILLION? The straight math leads to a conclusion of $250 Million for all the wants of Imagine. That's a quarter OF ONE BILLION DOLLARS. And by straight math that does not include cost overruns, the "oops we have soil remediation issues", inflation, and cost of borrowing. And if it's really broken down into it's parts the spend on education and "equity" pales In comparison to sports and "community spaces". Best of luck

Monica Sheehan  

Posted: September 11th, 2018 4:10 PM

All of Legat's Long Term Facility Plans for OPRF included costs for ALL phases. The same should be expected and required of Imagine's plan. Estimates of only three of five phases have been released, and nearly 50% of the partial total, $145 million, are earmarked for physical education in general, with no specific line item costs listed. Why the lack of transparency? Imagine's Phase 5 will significantly hike the total expenditure on PE as it includes a massive addition, the third of three, to the south end of the building. Imagine's plan would demolish a third of the school's structurally sound building, including the historic Field House, to accommodate a huge pool and aquatic center and a 200-meter running track, expensive wants and not needs of the school. The total price tag of Imagine's plan will far exceed a similar plan proposed by Legat in May 2016. The school board unanimously rejected the plan a month later based on its disruption factor and its price tag. It was the most expensive plan proposed at the time and is the subject of a recent opinion letter. It's a timely read or reread now in light of Imagine's proposed plan. http://www.oakpark.com/News/Articles/8-7-2018/OPRF%27s-$152M-facilities-plan/

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