Tuesday evening, the school board at Oak Park and River Forest High School District 200 began discussing initial steps to implement portions of the Imagine OPRF master facilities plan. The board had recommendations from its administration on both construction priorities and ways to finance a first phase of work.
The construction recommendations focused on remaking classrooms, science labs, special ed spaces and student gathering spots. The finance proposal came with sternly expressed concerns that the district has to change the historic trajectory of its spending to avoid financial pitfalls and property tax spikes.
The Imagine OPRF plan, if fully executed, is projected to cost $219 million and could take up to a decade to fully implement. The initial discussion Tuesday took place after press time.
According to a memo drafted by D200 Supt. Joylynn Pruitt-Adams, among the administration’s “initial recommended components” are an estimated $32.6 million worth of projects.
They include the renovation and/or construction of 76 general education classrooms, all-gender restrooms, three science labs and daycare facilities. Other components are the first-phase installation of a student commons area on the first, second and third floors; and the installation of an ADA-compliant elevator at the north end of the high school.
Pruitt-Adams explained that the renovation and/or construction of classrooms, kitchen and laundry areas, a sentry room and an ADA-compliant restroom in the high school’s Transitional Education with Access to the Mainstream program are the only items that address issues that were identified as “most urgent, based primarily on physical condition of those facilities.”
Pruitt-Adams said that, if the board considers making a commitment to “rectifying the most urgent facility needs, it also could consider” taking action to implement what the district is calling Component D.
This component, which has an estimated total project budget of $65.4 million, includes the replacement of the district’s aging pools, the construction and/or renovation of locker rooms for boys and non-binary students, the installation of an ADA-compliant elevator at the south end of the high school, among other projects.
“While several of the items listed in Component D are identified as important rather than urgent, the most cost [effective] way to complete Component D would be to do all the work [at] once rather than delaying the non-urgent items until later,” Pruitt-Adams explained.
Pruitt-Adams said that the administration is nonetheless recommending that the school board “authorize issuing a request for qualifications for design services only” for the $32.6 million worth of “initial recommended components.”
“Doing this project would have a significant and immediate positive impact on students while taking into consideration the District’s financial uncertainties, previous Board discussion, the size and scope of component D, and community input,” said the memo.
The administration also recommended that the board continue to spend around $4 million a year on basic capital expenses and to “immediately establish” a $20 million capital reserve fund “to ensure that funds are available to address future projects within” the high school’s facilities, according to a document drafted by Robert Grossi, the district’s financial consultant.
The money in the reserve fund would come from the district’s more than $100 million fund balance. Grossi said that the $20 million reserve amount is consistent with a recommendation made by the Finance Advisory Committee, established in 2013 to address the district’s ballooning fund balance.
Grossi explained that the reserve fund could grow from interest earnings, private donations made to OPRF for capital projects and more money being transferred into the fund in the future.
“The District’s future financial condition is directly tied to the available funds for capital projects,” Grossi explained, adding that the school board’s “most important focus” is “maintaining a structural balanced budget” in which “on-going annual revenues are always equal or greater than on-going annual expenses.
“This is key to providing not only long-term fiscal stability, but is also the key to addressing long-term facility needs and long-term avoidance of property tax spikes that can shock the District’s tax base,” he said.