After adding its estimates for the fourth and fifth sequences of Imagine OPRF’s long-term master facilities plan, a representative of Perkins and Will, an architectural firm, told the Oak Park and River Forest High School board Oct. 25 that the total projected cost of the master plan would be around $219 million. 

The updated financial estimate comes weeks after some community members criticized the district when an initial cost estimate of the master plan released last month only included projections for the first three sequences of the five-sequence plan. 

During the Oct. 25 meeting, members of Imagine, the group formed last spring to draft a long-term master plan, and various district officials tried putting that total cost figure into some context while dispelling what they said were the many inaccuracies some people were perpetuating about the cost and nature of the plan.

During a presentation at a special meeting on Sept. 11, Imagine OPRF members announced the first three phases, or sequences, of the five-sequence master plan was projected to cost around $145 million to complete. 

Cost estimates for the last two sequences were not included in that Sept. 11 presentation, architects and Imagine members said, because the construction work included in those sequences would take place too far into the future and that many variables — including materials costs, inflation and interest rates — could change dramatically. 

Still, some community members, particularly residents affiliated with the group OPRF Pragmatic Solutions, were adamant about seeing those financial projections.

The whole five-sequence plan could take between six and 10 years to complete, depending on how aggressively the board acts to implement the many individual construction projects within it. 

Those separate projects range the gamut and address a wide array of physical deficits in the century-old high school campus — from relocating and upgrading the current library to renovating 76 classrooms in the first sequence alone to constructing a new 4-story facility for physical education and athletics in the third sequence. 

During the Oct. 25 meeting, Rick Young, with Perkins and Will, presented an updated draft financial funding plan that included cost estimates for the last two sequences and a flowchart showing how the various sequences, and their component projects, related to each other. 

Young said that the draft funding plan is designed to give the board some flexibility in implementing the various sequences and components, adding that some components can be done independently of the others. 

A lot of those independent components include summer construction work. For instance, one component that includes the renovation of 64 classrooms and that costs around $6 million can be done over multiple summers. 

The first, second and third sequences would cost a projected $28.3 million, $66.9 million and $49.6 million, respectively. The major project in the first sequence includes relocating and renovating the library and cafeteria while major features of the second and third sequences, respectively, include adding the physical education facility and constructing a student commons area.

Those component projects could take 14 months, 18 months and 6 months to complete in the first, second and third sequences, respectively.

The first three sequences all feature green roofs in various parts of campus, including the newly constructed additions. The architects also provided the district the flexibility to install solar panels as alternatives. Green roofs, Young said, could save the district money down the road. 

“Storm water is a significant issue throughout the metropolitan Chicago area and governing bodies are implementing stricter and stricter measures to deal with the issue for every new construction project that affects the site or the overall footprint of the building,” according to the draft funding plan. 

Sequences four and five would include the renovation of classrooms, administrative offices and science labs, among other instructional areas, and are projected to cost $20.6 million and $53.5 million, respectively. 

Those numbers, however, came with yet another caveat. 

“We want to stress that estimating costs for work that likely would begin at least six years from now is extremely difficult to do with any accuracy,” according to the draft funding plan. 

“The actual plan components and the actual costs to build them are certain to change significantly before sequences 4 and 5 are executed more than five years from now, for a variety of reasons,” the architects explained.

Those reasons include the fact that changes to the first three sequences “would have implications for what is included” in the last two sequences, changes in the economy and construction industry that might affect cost and the possibility that “the school’s needs will change over time.” 

During the Oct. 25 meeting, some community members expressed frustration with the large price tag. 

“Are you crazy! You must be crazy!” said Maureen Kleinman, adding that the master plan “does not even give us any new or renovated classrooms for academic, vocational and technical use and applied arts.” 

“You have to have some limits, time constraints and priorities,” said Kevin Peppard. 

Michael Stacks, an Oak Park resident who stressed that he is not a member of ORPF Pragmatic Solutions — the group founded by Monica Sheehan that was instrumental in narrowly defeating a 2016 referendum related to another long-term facilities plan — said that he feels that “the same lack of trust” that felled the previous long-term facilities plan is brewing with the “well-thought out” Imagine process. 

“I am concerned with the costs and the public’s concern that it addresses athletics over academics,” he said, adding that he hopes the district “presents multiple options, including options that reduce the overall cost and may eliminate certain athletic programs, whatever they may be.” 

Lynn Kamenitsa, an Imagine co-chair, however, pushed back against what she said was “lots of false and misleading information” about the master facilities plan “being spread by letters, online comments, flyers and social media lately.” 

For instance, she said, claims that the plan will not include classroom enhancements and STEM labs, or that it includes an Olympic size pool are not true. Kamenitsa urged residents who have questions about the plan to visit Imagine OPRF’s web page, imagineoprf.org. 

A town hall on the master facilities plan was scheduled to take place on Oct. 30, inside of OPRF’s South Cafeteria. The Imagine group is expected to present a final plan to the school board sometime next month.

CONTACT: michael@oakpark.com    

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