After many months, the D200 Board of Education (BoE), through its surrogate, the Imagine OPRF Work Group, has finally released cost estimates for its proposed Long Term Facility Plan (LTFP). The plan would totally demolish and rebuild a third of the structurally sound building and historic field house, largely for physical education (PE) and athletics. Yet the total price tag is still unknown, as costs for 40% of the project have not been released.

The estimate just for sequences 1 through 3 — there are five in all — is $145 million. Costs for Sequence 5, in particular, will be substantial as it includes the plan’s third massive addition to the south end of the building. Once all costs are released and borrowing costs are tacked on, the BoE’s LTFP could easily surpass a quarter of a billion dollars. This expenditure alone would make OPRF the third most expensive public high school in America, according to Public School Review.

It’s a red flag that the total cost of the LTFP was not released during the “Big Reveal” on Sept. 11. Imagine’s co-chairs defended the lack of estimates for sequences 4 and 5, stating that they are “further down the road” and unable to estimate. Yet all three phasing options would complete the project within 10 years. In the most aggressive option, sequences 4 and 5 would begin in year four. That’s not “further down the road.” 

Moreover, D200’s architect of record, Legat, proposed several LTFPs in 2016 and every plan included a total cost. It’s standard construction-industry practice to release a total price tag during the discussion phase, not after a project has begun. If the BoE-contracted architectural and cost-estimating consultants can’t provide estimated costs for these two sequences along with public disclosure, then both Perkins + Will and ICI should be fired and replaced with competent firms.

The proposed LTFP is filled with many wants and few actual educational needs, and its cost estimates lack transparency and specificity. For example, Sequence 2 includes the demolition and rebuild of the southeast corner of the building for an aquatic center with seating for 600 spectators and a pool double the size of a standard-size high school competition pool. Yet there’s no line-item cost estimate for the oversized 17-lane pool and aquatic center. The pool’s cost is hidden with other PE/athletics expenditures, and the cost of the aquatic center’s seating for 600 spectators is lumped in a category called “Community/Shared Space.”

Based on costs for just 60% of the proposal, here’s how the $145 million is allocated: 47.95% = PE/Athletics; 21.28% = Community/Shared Space (including Aquatic Center); 10.30% = Performing Arts; 7.41% = Building, Roof and Faculty Offices; 7.08% = Academics (including Special Education and Applied Arts); and 5.98% = Student Resources.     

Ethically, the BoE can’t decide the fate of a massive expenditure of taxpayer dollars without voter approval. Acting without voter authorization would be an egregious act of overreach. A board seat is not a blank check.

Monica Sheehan is a member of OPRF Pragmatic Solutions.

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