Oak Park Elementary Schools District 97 school board members are trying to resolve critical space issues at Lincoln and Longfellow, two elementary schools with growing enrollments, while keeping costs under control.
The total cost estimates for a proposed Lincoln expansion are much more than district officials had originally anticipated. Board members are now trying to look for efficiencies that might lower those costs.
A referendum last year to allow the district to borrow $57.5 million to help finance renovations and expansions at its elementary schools passed overwhelmingly.
The total bill for the most recent round of capital improvements – which includes major work at Lincoln, Longfellow, Beye, Hatch and Irving schools and is anticipated to last through August 2021 — is projected to come in below the $57.5 million mark.
But the school board is still trying to find ways to keep the Lincoln costs under control.
In May, board members learned that cost projections for the proposed Lincoln expansion were millions more than the roughly $4.6 million estimate that district officials provided a few years ago.
Architect Jennifer Costanzo, of STR Partners, said that the plans for Lincoln were more costly because the district is “attempting to right-size” classrooms that have been shoehorned into spaces that aren’t adequate for instruction.
On June 12, at a meeting held inside of the auditorium at Lincoln School, 1111 S. Grove Ave., students and staff members at Lincoln attested to Costanzo’s observation.
Lincoln Principal Lisa Carlos said students and teachers “felt very hopeful, heard and valued” when they saw the expansion plans for the school.
“We were very excited because the space challenges had been very onerous for us. They have, to be frank, deflated the morale of my staff,” Carlos said. “It’s very challenging to have gifted, erudite, talented, student-centered teachers housed in a closet in the library.”
Carlos said that she’s lost “three or four very talented people who have been at Lincoln their whole career,” because of the school’s “dire, critical need for space” and other resources.
Meghann Moses, a Lincoln parent, said she sometimes doesn’t feel that the school is receiving an “equitable distribution of space” and lamented the lack of personnel, such as social workers and gifted teachers, available for students.
Mary Pat Eraci-Sullivan, a teacher’s assistant at Lincoln who once had a child at the school, said that “our concern is that we are losing people not just due to space but” because “there are too many students they can do the job for.”
During last Tuesday’s meeting, board members considered a series of expansion scenarios for Lincoln with varying price tags. All of them included a three-story addition to the school’s west side, renovations to a multipurpose room and other interiors, and major work on the school’s temperature controls.
The cost for the options at Lincoln School ranged from roughly $15.9 million to $22.7 million.
The expansion of Longfellow School is projected to cost another $14.5 million, while renovations at Beye, Hatch and Irving that are projected to cost between $.3 million and $4 million each. The district also allocated an estimated $72,700 for ongoing expansion work at Holmes School.
On June 12, board member Rob Breymaier expressed concern that the cost of expanding Lincoln and Longfellow could cut into the district’s ability to fund future improvements.
“Are we using up funds on these two buildings that are going to keep us from doing important work [in the future]?” he said.
Alicia Evans, the district’s assistant superintendent of finance, said that the referendum dollars were designed to address capacity issues at Lincoln and Longfellow, along with the need for accessibility and learning space improvements at other schools.
The board voted 5 to 0 to approve some architectural design work related to a portion of the Lincoln and Longfellow renovations that is unrelated to the expansion
Board President Holly Spurlock and board Vice President Jim O’Connor were absent. The board is expected to make a final decision on construction scenarios for the two schools sometime in July.
Lincoln principal to resign
Lisa Carlos, the principal of Lincoln School in Oak Park, will resign to take a principal position at Des Plaines School District 62, District 97 officials announced in a statement released on June 19. Carlos’ last day will be June 21, they said. Carlos was hired in 2017 to replace longtime principal Cathy Hamilton.
In the statement D97 Superintendent Carol Kelley said that the district will launch a search for Carlos’ replacement soon and hope to complete the process before the start of the 2018-19 school year.
In a letter to Lincoln students, faculty and staff, Carlos said that “it is with mixed emotions that I announce I am leaving.”
The principal’s decision comes roughly a week after she went before the D97 school board to lament the loss of longtime staff members who have left the school because of its lack of space and other resources.
In her letter, Carlos didn’t go into detail about her decision to resign. She could not be contacted for comment on Tuesday afternoon.