A resident of Oak Park for over 30 years, I attended the Imagine OPRF facilities presentation on Oct. 30 and came away with several strong impressions:
1. The Imagine volunteers should be commended and thanked for their substantial efforts and time they devoted in response to instructions given them.
2. The $218 million cost is prohibitively high. Assuming 3,400 students served, this translates to over $64,000 each. Has there been any attempt to compare this cost with projects in the area, for even new construction? More ominously, the assets available from reserves while maintaining the guideline reserve minimum is $84 million. Forty million more could be raised by issuing securities without voter referendum, but that means new taxes. An estimated $2 million per year could perhaps be captured from the annual capital expenditures budget of $4 million. Over five years, this is $10 million. Summing, the total available of $134 million is under 62% of total project cost. It’s a slam dunk that, at mid-project, the board will be coming back to taxpayers for that whopping $84 million shortfall, even with $40 million already taxed without community approval.
3. The board direction lacked essential steps, with no sub-facility priorities or cost/benefit analysis. As an engineer and business owner, I’ve been estimating and executing software development projects for 30+ years. The project plan is the last step prior to implementation, not among the earliest. Requirements come first, divided into musts and wants, ranked by priority. Next, the cost of each is estimated, and the essential cost benefit analysis done. Consider the hypothetical case of a basic swimming pool available for $25 million serving all PE students, and a deluxe model for $40 million that would also serve the swim team. For each alternative, calculate the number of students served, multiplied by the number of hours per year in the pool, to arrive at a student-hours figure. Then calculate a cost per student-hour. For the basic alternative, the number would be $25 million over the number of PE students. For the deluxe swim team upgrade, requiring 40-25, or $15 million, student-hours would be calculated including swim team members only. The much higher cost per student-hour of the swim team upgrade emerges. This analysis is crucial in setting priorities.
4. Most disturbing was the concluding board member pronouncement that this is representative government: They were elected and they alone would decide whether to proceed. This is only partially true since a referendum would be required to complete all phases. Unless we are happy with all the implied priorities in terms of the order — e.g., PE done early and academics and the arts done late and perhaps not if the project is cut short — we should remind the board that in cases of projects of this tremendous scope and cost, a referendum is a normal course.
In my lifelong experience, anybody who pays for the work is, by definition, a customer, and deserves to be treated like one.
Robert Parks is a resident of Oak Park.