During the Nov. 15 regular meeting, the District 200 Board of Education unanimously accepted the recommended facilities master plan drafted by Imagine OPRF — the 40-member working group convened more than a year ago on the recommendation of D200 Supt. Joylynn Pruitt-Adams. The group was tasked with conducting rigorous research into the district’s long-term facility needs. 

According to an FAQ produced by the high school, that included a detailed “investigation of the high school’s facilities, feedback from surveys and focus groups of 1,600-plus students and staff members, four rounds of community engagement and input, tours of peer facilities throughout the Chicago area, and a wealth of additional research.”

Pruitt-Adams explained last week that the master plan is not a single construction project “where design and financing of every portion is done at the start.” Instead, she said, the plan “is a living document that should be reviewed and modified every few years as the impact of early projects is assessed, school needs change, and funding becomes available.” 

The superintendent added that by accepting the plan, the board is “accepting the identified facility needs and is not locked into a financial commitment. Once accepted, the Facilities Master Plan becomes the board’s. At that point, the Board of Education has the latitude to then decide what portion of the plan to implement and when, along with how to [fund] that portion.” 

The proposed master plan includes a range of construction projects — from a new library and tutoring center above the South Cafeteria and renovation or construction of 76 classrooms, to a new four-story performing arts and physical education facility and a new student common area — and is divided into five sequences that span up to a decade. 

The first three sequences, which include classroom renovations, the construction of the new library and tutoring center, and the new four-story physical education and performing arts building, are projected to cost an estimated $145 million. 

The fourth and fifth sequences, which include the construction of a new Welcome Center and relocating and renovating a range of instructional spaces, among other improvements, are much harder to price, given the fact that they’re so far out, district officials and architects have said. 

Nonetheless, rough cost estimates have those last two sequences at around $73 million, bringing the total cost of all projects within the master plan to $218 million. 

At the Nov. 15 meeting, board members, residents and district officials unanimously praised the Imagine group’s efforts, with Pruitt-Adams recognizing, in particular, the work of Imagine co-chairs Lynn Kamenitsa and Mike Poirier, along with Karin Sullivan, the district’s communications director. 

“The scope, depth, thoughtfulness and detail with which you looked at every part of this plan is astonishing,” said board member Sara Spivy. 

“I am truly appreciative of the work Imagine has done,” said board member Tom Cofsky, before comparing the process to the one the district implemented in the run-up to the failed referendum in 2016 that would have helped fund a long-term facilities plan and, perhaps more importantly, replaced the high school’s two dilapidated swimming pools. 

“This is not a pool plan — this is a facilities plan,” Cofsky said, channeling a widespread sentiment among some community members that the plan the district drafted two years ago was more restricted to replacing the two pools than comprehensive long-term capital needs.

“The work done in 2016 pales in comparison to Imagine,” said board member Jennifer Cassell. 

The board’s high praise of the Imagine plan, however, was tempered by reservations among many members about the plan’s cost and the constricted time frame that the board has to evaluate the plan and act on the recommendations. 

Throughout the process of completing the plan, Imagine members insisted that budgetary considerations take a backseat to evaluating the high school’s facility needs. Now that those needs are identified, however, the board must deal with the budget implications. 

At the meeting, board members seemed dismayed that the two issues, cost implications and capital needs, were contemplated separately to begin with. 

“With a plan that doesn’t have budgetary requirements, it has budgetary assumptions,” Cofsky said. “I struggle with that.” 

Pruitt-Adams said that the administration and school board will discuss which construction projects to prioritize, the timing of the construction process, and potential ways to fund the plan at a Committee of the Whole meeting on Dec. 11.

“I want to reiterate my appreciation for all the effort,” said board member Matt Baron. “It’s really been tremendous, but I feel that after 15 months of all this work, for us to turn around and make a decision by December is a tall order and uncharted territory by this board, so we will see. I’m eager to get into the trenches. Up until this point, by design, we haven’t talked about it.” 

CONTACT: michael@oakpark.com    

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