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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