OPRF talks facility costs

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By Michael Romain

Staff Reporter

The Oak Park and River Forest High School District 200 school board is grappling with how to fund a long-term facilities plan that could take up to 10 years and at least $145 million to complete, based on a preliminary draft of the plan that Imagine OPRF members unveiled during a special board meeting on Sept. 11. 

Members of Imagine OPRF — the volunteer group formed last year to create a long-term master facilities plan at the high school — said that the preliminary plan involves five sequences that could take between six and 10 years to complete. 

The sequences involve constructing new physical education space and building a new, two-story library and tutoring center over the South Cafeteria, among other capital projects. The price estimate for the first three phases of the five-phase plan was around $145 million. 

Imagine OPRF co-chairs Lynn Kamenitsa and Mike Piorier said that they didn't have cost estimates for the remaining two phases because they were too far in the future. 

During the Sept. 11 meeting, D200 board members expressed concerns about the high price tag for the plan, which Kamenitsa and Piorier emphasized only addressed the most pressing capital needs at the school.

"What if this turns out to be more than the board can afford," said member Craig Iseli. "If we have to cut back, how do we do that?" 

Mark Jolicoeur, an architect with Perkins and Will, which helped draft the preliminary plan, said that there are ways to "move the costs" to a degree, but that the challenge is that certain components of the plan that need to happen," such as relocating the library must happen "in order for other improvements to be made." 

In an interview before the special meeting on Sept. 11, 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.

Supt. Joylynn Pruitt-Adams said during the meeting that any cuts should be made "through the lens of what will be the impact on students." 

Financial consultant Robert Grossi said that the board needs to determine how much of its fund balance it wants to use toward the project. Imagine OPRF recommended that the school board use at least a portion of the district's $107 million fund balance to fund the beginning phases of the plan. 

"The plan should be developed so that whatever fund balance reserves the district wants to have, you want to make sure that that's the number you have, at a minimum, after the first three phases are completed," Grossi said.

Grossi said that, since the district spends about $7 million a month, that $107 million fund balance represents about 15 months' worth of fund balance. The board's policy recommends that the district's fund balance represents 25 percent to 75 percent of its annual revenues. 

He added that the school board should also take into consideration any statewide legislative action that might impact the fund balance reserves over the next five years, such as a property tax freeze or a change in the state's pension law.

Grossi also recommended that the board consider whether or not at least some of the $6 million the district spends each year on capital projects, such as routine summer construction work, could be aligned with projects in the long-term facilities plan.

Outside of the fund balance, the district has the option of funding the long-term plan through debt certificates and referendum bonds, Grossi said. 

While many of the near dozen residents who spoke during the Sept. 11 meeting lauded the plan, particularly its comprehensiveness and the efforts of Imagine members, some criticized what they felt were the plan's dire implications for taxpayers.

Monica Sheehan said that the cost estimates Imagine presented "makes me and others think that" the district is "oblivious" to the tax burden of residents. 

A public meeting to discuss the preliminary plan is scheduled to take place on Oct. 3, 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., at OPRF, 201 N. Scoville Ave., inside the south cafeteria. 

CONTACT: michael@oakpark.com 

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Charlie Kohler  

Posted: September 21st, 2018 6:38 PM

@Jason - I voted for both D97 Refferenda AND YES to the Pool Vote. I want to support things like this. But between the lack of transparency and @Lynn implying below that I don't understand the proposal (which I read), and taxpayers shouldn't be concerned because it would be paid for over a long period of time, they have completely lost me. Maybe it is the message, maybe the messenger, but if you lose a voter like me, I can't imagine this having a ton of widespread support.

Kevin Peppard from Oak Park  

Posted: September 21st, 2018 5:43 PM

With regard to the statement that costs in the future cannot be estimated: Just tell us what Sequences 4 & 5 would cost today, if the other sequences had already been finished, We can adjust forward, using the existing cost estimates (from them) that things will escalate at 4% per year (possibly too low, with steel tariffs from that guy with the bad hair). The reason that these costs are not being provided is that Perkins + Will and ICI know that this will exceed the Statutory Debt Limit, even with a deep draw-down of existing cash. Think of the Pied Piper. The Emperor's New Clothes. The Music Man. The Wizard of Oz. and The French Fable of "Stone Soup". We're being played, but many of us aren't gullible, nor stupid. This will take twenty years to bond out, and if more debt is assumed in the middle of that (once some of the principal is paid off), it will only add to the existing, unpaid debt service. This is not grounded in reality. As one of my friends opined, will Sequences 4 & % never happen, because they are just bait to get people to vote for the first three? Something is rotten in Denmark.

Jason Cohen  

Posted: September 21st, 2018 5:05 PM

@Bruce, you may certainly be technically correct and maybe I am being naive but I can't begin to fathom a situation where a plan like this moves forward without a massive amount of pushback from the community. In my opinion everyone involved in this process would be under significant pressure to put this to a vote. There's no way the village would just collectively go along with this. I have said this before but I don't know a single person that supports this plan and most of the people I know, including myself, voted for the recent D97 referendums so this has a fair amount of opposition.

Charlie Kohler  

Posted: September 21st, 2018 4:48 PM

@lynn - thanks for the reply. If the $250 Million cost is made up, can Imagine share what the full proposal costs are? The $150 Million current estimate is for 3 of the 5 phases of the proposal, so $250 Million seems reasonable for 5/5. And, I have looked at the plans (thanks for the invite to do so) and the most glaring addition is the amazing aquatic center and the 400 person seating contained within. If you take a look at the proposal, you will note that a majority of the proposed spend (that covers 3/5 of the project) is devoted to the athletics section of the building, anchored by the new aquatic center. What am I missing? The one thing I dont underatand is how this proposed spend does not hit all students at home (as rents and taxes rise). If I am missing something, I am certainly open to correction and guidance.

Bruce Kline  

Posted: September 21st, 2018 3:55 PM

Jason you wrote: "They are making it next to impossible to approve something like this ..." Jason, the unpleasant truth is they don't need YOU or I or anyone else to approve this, except of course the BoE, which appears already to be in agreement. This was my perception from attending the Sept 11 Big Meet: where this was all revealed. The financial consultant that night, pointed out the "road map" whereby sequence #1 through #3 could likely be funded (if not 100% than most of it) with out taxpayer approval (draw down reserve funds and issue debt certificates); the questions posed by the BoE as well as their "side bars" clearly showed they are all in as well. IMO, the Oct 3 Community Conversation is mere Kabuki. But don't take my word for it. See for yourself. In this respect I agree with Ms. Kamenitsa: I hope you and many others attend on October 3 the Imagine Community Conversation. I only hope you and others are permitted to ask probing questions in open forum (which was pointedly not permitted in the May meetings) ... and more importantly receive meaningful responses, also in open forum.

Lynn Kamenitsa  

Posted: September 21st, 2018 3:02 PM

@Charlie, you don't seem to have an accurate understanding of what the Imagine team is proposing and why. The Imagine group has been working for more than a year to identify facilities needs across the entire campus and create a master plan for dealing with the problems it uncovered. I'd encourage to look at the draft plan documents submitted to the D200 school board, and particularly the needs assessment documents that describe facility conditions, that are posted at ImagineOPRF.org. The plan touches every part of the school and would be executed -- and paid for -- over a long period of time. Please consider attending the next Imagine Community Conversation on October 3, when you could get more information and accurate cost estimates to replace the made up ones you cite.

Jason Cohen  

Posted: September 21st, 2018 2:43 PM

@Stephen, I think you have really nailed a great point. By going with the most significant and expensive option what is likely to happen is nothing thereby negatively impacting many of the groups this plan is supposedly going to help. I am sure the logic behind closed doors was that if we show a much more scaled down plan then people will just want that as it's much cheaper and nobody will give any consideration to the massive plan. The reality is they should be able to support their idea and if they can't explain why a $20 million plan isn't good enough then that's on them. They are making it next to impossible to approve something like this thereby not letting us get some of the actual good things that are a part of this. They won't ever be able to get away from people thinking this is simply pool plan part two if they continue to insist on making the pool such a significant part of this from a concept and cost perspective.

Stephen Hartmann  

Posted: September 21st, 2018 12:31 PM

I read earlier that there were 3 alternatives. I was hard to differentiate between the 3 plans. All of them were in the XL size. I am most disappointed that in the planning there was no consideration of a medium size. No consideration of the realities that many residents will reject this on price along. One would think that after years of effort to resolve what started as a pool issue that one option that was prices sensitive would be considered. This well meaning group has taken a great risk of becoming irrelevant because they did not consider fiscal realities in their plans,

Charlie Kohler from Oak Park  

Posted: September 21st, 2018 9:52 AM

@Lynn: I ask you this in all sincerity and positive intent - knowing that OPRF families are currently struggling with high property taxes and rents (along with the now reduced property tax deduction b/c of the new tax laws), how does spending $250 Million benefit all OPRF students? With reduced funds to spend on housing, food, clothing, etc because of higher rents or taxes, how does spending that much to put in a sweet aquatic center make every student's life better? Is the intent to price students and families out of the district & hopefully attract wealthy new residents who really love swimming? Again - all sincerity - just trying to get the mindset of asking for so much of a cost burden on residents.

Lynn Kamenitsa  

Posted: September 21st, 2018 9:02 AM

@Nick: The example of the Special Ed TEAM program demonstrates the importance of Imagine's thorough needs assessment of OPRF. At the start of Imagine's research, I don't think the inadequacies of the TEAM and other special ed spaces were on the radar of many Imagine members. By the end, though, the facilities needs of those programs had moved to the top of our list. Meeting the needs of those students is an end in and of itself not, as you imply, an effort to fund some other facility. Imagine's facilities plan is for the whole school and we see the needs of ALL students as very "relevant issues" indeed.

Bruce Kline  

Posted: September 20th, 2018 4:29 PM

So Kevin now you explained the inexplicable - the real reason why IMAGINE could not give an estimate for the whole project. Because by doing so the said estimate would clearly exceed the statutory debt limit. So how convenient that their present estimate is at that limit. This is clearly a full blown scam perpetuated upon the citizens of OP/RF.

Peter Ryan  

Posted: September 20th, 2018 4:17 PM

I support the findings of the Imagine group and hope the board will responsibly enact many of Imagine's recommendations in the coming years.

Kevin Peppard  

Posted: September 20th, 2018 1:53 PM

I Had a typo in my last post. I meant $250 MILLION as the ballpark cost of the total project, until Imagine can tell us otherwise, which they have so far refused to do. The people involved have no idea. It's Perkins & Will, and ICI who are refusing to come clean.

Kevin Peppard  

Posted: September 20th, 2018 1:49 PM

This proposal, once the costs of Sequences 4 & 5 are added (adding up to possibly $250,000), will exceed the Statutory Debt Limit of the District, which is about $150 million (6.9% times the Equalized Assessed Valuation of a little under $2.3 billion). Even with a draw-down of $30 million from the existing cash balance, it still won't work. This is pure fantasy. This project never had any limiting parameters, and the over $200,000 spent on it so far will have not resulted in usable calls to action. The idea of using debt certificates is absurd. Those do NOT come with any additional taxing authority, and have to be paid for out of the existing levy, either crowding out existing uses, or expediting when an operating referendum has to occur. The Board should halt this runaway train now. It's not Imagine OPRF, its' Fantasy OPRF. The Board is charged with oversight (overseeing) of the District (in one sense of that word). But it has engaged in oversight in the other sense of that word (being asleep at the switch).

Neal Buer from Oak Park  

Posted: September 20th, 2018 12:45 PM

What's the rush. Let's wait until after the D200 school board elections. Each candidate will have to be for or against this project. No middle of the road equivocating. Then the voters can elect a board that is for or against this plan.

Tom MacMillan  

Posted: September 20th, 2018 9:34 AM

It is sick to hear about the "efforts" of the Imagine members. How about the "efforts" of the tax payers. It is all unnecessary massive spending based on not being able to fit an olympic pool into the existing space. A pool the town already voted against spending any money on.

Nick Polido  

Posted: September 20th, 2018 9:02 AM

The Idea the board is even considering this plan is crazy. The benefits of this plan are always couched in Oak Parks hot talking points , transgender bathrooms, this will help close the equity gap, now in this latest piece a increase in special education and team programming space. Not that these are not relevant issues its just disgusting how they use these points to build a huge athletic center and yes with a huge pool!

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