District 113 Board Weighs In on Renovation Proposal
The School Board of District 113 got its first chance to discuss the $168 million project Monday night.
The District 113 School Board has a big decision to make.
On Monday, Superintendent George Fornero presented the board with the proposal for a new master plan for Deerfield and Highland Park High Schools that would fix infrastructure problems, demolish old buildings and install technology support systems for a different kind of learning. If the plans are completed in their entirety, they would cost Deerfield and Highland Park residents $168 million over the course of the next 20-plus years.
Before the plan can be put to referendum for April's election, the board needs to approve it first.
Planning for the future
Representatives from architectural firm Wight and Company, the District's financial planning liaison from PMA Securities and more than fifteen members of the community leadership group spoke about the proposal on Monday.
"Wight's original assignment was to assess the capital needs of our district," said board member Harvey Cohen. "They came up with alternative proposals for us to consider and provided us with professional and reasoned estimates as to the costs of their various proposals."
Cohen said that what Wight and Company presented served as a good framework to begin from, but not a plan set in stone. Instead, the proposal should serve as a jumping-off point from which board members will discuss the needs of each high school and financing for the projects.
"Anyone who has recently been in our schools knows that our schools need and are crying for major capital improvements," Cohen said. "If we want to maintain the value of our homes we must improve and maintain the value of the education we give our children."
Sam Shapiro of Highland Park, a member of the community leadership team, thanked the taxpayers of the district for "helping defray the cost of putting our kids through school."
"I generally agree with the concept of this plan," Shapiro said. "I can't say that I agree with every last detail."
Shapiro said the cost of the project is "a tremendous expenditure," and would qualify District 113 as one of the most expensive in the country.
"Having said all that, remarkably I am for this plan but under a certain set of restrictions."
'Think like an accountant'
Shapiro said that he is for the adoption of the master plan because of its potential benefits to students and the premium residents would pay for those benefits is a wise investment.
"The premium that we pay for our schools does directly correlate to the premium in the property values; this investment will actually support higher return and higher values and a higher return on our investment."
Deerfield resident Harry Steindler encouraged the board and the community to "think like an accountant" in this situation.
"I think it's really important to look forward and operate not out of fear, not out of a position of scarcity, but look forward from a position of abundance and look for a way to better our community," Steindler said.
Some at the meeting were unconvinced.
"I urge this board to reject [the plans] in their entirety because they are based on suspect and biased pseudo-survey results, are too extravagant, too expensive and most of the items, while nice to have, are simply unnecessary," said David Greenberg of Highland Park.
The board's decision hinges on what tax burden they feel comfortable placing on Deerfield and Highland Park residents in order to make improvements for the schools and students of District 113.
"What's important is that we see in our own kids that they become successful in their lives because of the education this school district has given them," said Helene Herbstman, board member. "Going forward, we want to maintain the excellence we have here and to do that we have to engage a good portion of this plan."
Highland Park resident Rick Heineman attempted to put the cost of the project into another perspective.
"The tax assessor thinks my house is worth half a million," he said, "So I estimated that it's going to cost me between nine and 10,000 dollars. That's less that remodeling a bathroom."
The community leadership team worked with Wight and Company and District 113 to provide feedback and question the master plans as they were being developed. At the culmination of their group effort, they offered the board and the audience a caution.
"As a leadership group we have shared much careful discussion and have had some spirited debate," said Marv Ehlers, member of the community leadership team. "We feel it is critically important that we take a coordinated long-view when improving our schools rather than a piecemeal approach."
Though the proposal wasn't approved Monday, it seemed like a majority of the board supported the adoption of the proposed master plan, with some reservations.
"I am concerned that the unmet needs that we are facing today are because we are reaching the end of life of the facilities, the end of life of the technology, the end of life of the ability to create a collaborative working environment for our kids," said Michael Smith, board member. "The framework we've been provided with today is tremendous but requires further evaluation."
The board will make their final decision on the master plan at their next meeting on Jan. 10. The meeting will be held in the Deerfield High School cafeteria at 7:30 p.m.