Building capacity study undertaken at D97

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By Terry Dean

Staff reporter

Architects for District 97 began a walk-through assessment last week at its school buildings as the first phase of a comprehensive capacity study for the district.

STR Partners is overseeing the study.

D97 commissioned STR to look at capacity issues at its eight elementary schools and two middle schools. Some schools, like Lincoln, have had space issues as enrollment district-wide has grown. Lincoln, two summers ago, built additional classroom space onto its building, including a second-floor. Overall, district enrollment will approach 6,000 students in the next three years, a 5 percent increase from the current student body, said Bob Spatz, president of the D97 Board of Education and a member of the district's Facilities Advisory Committee.

Enrollment, which is currently around 5,500 kids, has grown 20 percent in the last decade, Spatz says.

The capacity study is part of the district's 10-year capital plan currently under development by the board and administration. That plan includes looking at accessibility in the buildings. An internal D97 committee is examining accessibility needs at the buildings, though some schools are mostly accessible now for students with special needs.

Heating and cooling issues at the schools are also part of capital planning. Those issues recently heated up when some parents complained about stifling classrooms during a string of 90-plus-degree days earlier this month. Parents urged the district to improve air conditioning in the buildings. They also complained about heating and cooling problems during the winter.

They brought their concerns to the D97 board on Sept. 10 and at the FAC's Sept. 12 meeting.

The proposed capital plan was among the items discussed by the FAC, which is a volunteer group.

The plan will include a kind of priority wish-list of things needing to be done and when to do them. That priority list will help the district manage the many projects it plans to undertake, explained Graham Brisben, a member of the D97 board who presented the capital plan thinking to the FAC.

Brisben also encouraged the district to start thinking in terms of overall infrastructure.

"I think, traditionally, capital planning and capital expenditure have been thought of as just facilities," he said. "Our position is: We'd like to make sure we're including both facilities and equipment, and assign a new definition to capital expense, which is, essentially, any depreciable equipment or infrastructure asset."

Concerning heating and cooling, FAC members discussed several possible solutions. They also addressed some of the solutions suggested by parents, including simply buying air-conditioning units for individual classrooms. Doing that, however, isn't as easy as it sounds, said FAC member Ralph Muehleisen.

Window units raise many school building code issues, including excess classroom noise and blocking light from the outside. Window units would then likely need to be drilled into the walls, which would result in a cost for the district beyond the purchase of the unit itself, Muehleisen explained.

And while air-conditioning units would address heat, they don't address ventilation,which the buildings need.

Any redo of classrooms would need to address heating, venting and air conditioning, said Muehleisen and Norm Lane, D97's director of buildings and grounds.

Concerning enrollment, the district's full-day kindergarten program, which launched in 2009, is a major driver. Another driver, officials noted, is changing neighborhood demographics.

"Best guess, from talking to a couple of realtors I know, is that it is a generational change happening," Spatz said. "The baby boomers, their kids are basically getting out of high school now and college and they're downsizing. And there are more new families moving in."


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OP Transplant  

Posted: September 26th, 2013 9:11 AM

Brenda - Old people dying is tough to avoid. Middle-aged people who are at their career earning peak moving out of OP to avoid the taxes as soon as their kids age out of the schools is a big problem, though. If you incentivize the more affluent members of a community to move away while at the same time incentivizing lower-income people to move in, you're going to lower your village's household income. Statistics don't show that to be a wise choice.

Oak Parker  

Posted: September 26th, 2013 8:51 AM

@ Unfortunately... The comment about RF doing just fine with .5 day K is a bit off base. RF has tried to get full day K but lacks the space so it's tabled. Elmwood Park is the same way - no space. Full day K allows the time for extending learning, especially for low income and students who did not have access to good pre-school experiences. RF's student population is much different than D97's and D97 felt the added time would pay academic dividends all through the grades.


Posted: September 26th, 2013 7:12 AM

Old people die and new families move in. It happens everywhere.

Done from Oak Park  

Posted: September 25th, 2013 3:26 PM

Why do I see the word "referendum" in our future?

OP Res 253 from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: September 25th, 2013 2:55 PM

The reason the all day kindergarten changed the census is that part-time students were not counted. They have "added" an entire grade in the count, even though only 1/2 in time. The funding from the state exceeded the expense. The 1960 census had 63.982 Oak Parkers. 2010 census is 52,015 and families have fewer children. Doesn't mean structures may not need maintenance, but D97 is NOT really educating more kids, though the total budget has gone up exponentially.

Adam Smith  

Posted: September 25th, 2013 2:43 PM

The increase may be true but shouldn't we use actual numbers based on facts and not anecdotal observations? As an aside, I really like the Randolph Tot Lot renovation.


Posted: September 25th, 2013 1:54 PM

Hang out at a Tot Lot, watch the sidewalks for strollers, and watch how many toddlers are using the library for storytime. We're swarming with families who have soon-to-be elementary age kids.

Adam Smith  

Posted: September 25th, 2013 1:43 PM

All day the kindergarten doesn't increase enrollment at first grade and beyond and really only adds more hours for the same amount of kids their first year of school. I have no problem with all day kindergarten but am really curious where these numbers come from.


Posted: September 25th, 2013 12:10 PM

@Adam. 2nd paragraph from the bottom provides the main reason: the addition of all-day kdg. I totally agree with your concerns and thoughts - that this is just another "it's for the children!" rationale to raise our taxes. River Forest manages just fine without all-day kdg - why can't Oak Park? I recall D97 stating that extra money from the state covered the cost of all-day kdg, but it appears as if this needs to be re-evaluated in light of the "proposed capital plan."

Adam Smith  

Posted: September 25th, 2013 11:26 AM

I would like to know the source of the increased enrollment projections. Both D97 and D200 keep repeating the same mantra and using it as a reason to spend more money on facilities. With the average family size going down, increased residency requirement policing, little new single family housing development and overnight parking restrictions (reduced density) I would think enrollment would be static or going downward.

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