During a May 23 regular meeting, the Oak Park District 97 school board unanimously approved a plan to build new classroom space on the east side of Holmes Elementary School, 508 N. Kenilworth Ave. 

Board members approved the plan as an alternative in case their preferred plan, which calls for the construction of five additional classrooms on the west side of Holmes, falls through. 

The D97 board approved the west side expansion of Holmes last July, but construction was delayed because D97 and the village of Oak Park couldn’t reach an agreement “to allow the school district to conduct soil testing, which is required before construction can begin,” according to a May memo by Alicia Evans, D97’s assistant superintendent for finance and operations. 

Since then, the village has approved the soil testing and adopted a motion in support of the west-side expansion, but D97 officials said there are still unforeseen complications related to the west expansion that made it necessary to hedge their bets by voting for an alternative plan. 

The west expansion will require construction crews to relocate underground utilities on Kenilworth Avenue. District officials estimate that the utility-related work could cost an estimated $200,000 — an amount that could “double or triple” over the course of construction, according to D97 board member Robert Spatz. 

“Any time you do construction on a site you don’t control [and are working] over things you don’t control, then it’s good to make sure you have alternatives,” Spatz said. 

D97 board President Holly Spurlock said the preliminary costs of the utility-related work is still worthwhile, since the west expansion is the preferred site of district officials (who believe it allows for even more facilities expansion in the future if that route becomes necessary), and the Holmes PTO. 

Spurlock said PTO members were concerned about the east expansion’s elimination of garden and outdoor classroom space, but they would accept the alternative if it means construction is completed by the 2018-19 school year, the district’s target completion date for the Holmes project. 

“The PTO said they’d accept the east side [expansion] solely based on the delays,” Spurlock said during the May 23 meeting. “It’s not a desirable alternative; it’s an alternative so we don’t have any delays.” 

District officials have said that the east expansion could present a smoother, less costly alternative since it doesn’t require the district to build on village-owned property and may not require construction crews to relocate underground utilities. 

According to district officials, the preliminary budget for the Holmes east and west expansion plans are $3,486,225 and $3,591,400, respectively. 

CONTACT: michael@oakpark.com

Avoiding mobile

Earlier this year, D97 officials discussed plans to install temporary mobile classroom units for the 2017-18 school year while new permanent classrooms at Holmes are under construction. 

But in May, district administrators, the Holmes principal and the district’s architect explored ways to create two new classrooms inside of the building for students as construction is taking place. 

And members of the district’s Facilities Advisory Committee unanimously recommended that the D97 school board use classroom space within the building instead of mobile units.

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