The District 113 School Board voted unanimously to adopt five years' worth of projects for Highland Park and Deerfield High Schools on Monday night, and voted to ask the communities for $89 million to help make them happen.
School officials praised the open and collaborative approach the district took to assembling the plan, which includes significant work on the two high school campuses. The plan marks the district's first step towards completing its master plan, which it signed off on in December of 2012.
"This is not the work of a small group of people," said Walter Hainsfurther, who presented phase one of the renovations during Monday night's board meeting and was a member of the Steering Committee. "It's the outcome of hundreds of volunteers over the last 18 months."
School board member Marjie Sandlow described an active school board that stayed relentlessly involved throughout the year and a half process of reaching out to and hearing suggestions from architecture firms, consulting firms and residents.
"We didn't just hire an architecture firm, have them do some work, wait for the results and then ask them questions at the end," said Sandlow, who believes she invested hundreds of hours into this process. "We were educated and up to date throughout the entire 18 months."
The renovation plan includes getting rid of building C on Highland Park's campus and replacing it with new classrooms. The physical education facilities in building C would be replaced with a a small, three court gymnasium on north end of campus, according to Hainsfurther. The district would maintain the option to expand the gymnasium into a field house, but it wouldn't be required by the plan.
"It could be five years, it could be never," Hainsfurther said about the potential field house.
The plan is projected to cost $114 million. Of that total, $25 million will come from the district's reserve funds and the remaining $89 million will come from District 113 residents. If the referendum passes, District 113 residents who own homes valued at $300,000 will pay $173 in taxes to the district in levy year 2013, a $47 increase from levy year 2012. If the referendum fails, those same homeowners would only pay $15 in taxes to District 113 in 2014 because the District paid off a significant amount of its debt this year. The 10-year average price residents have paid to District 113 in taxes is $198 annually, according to District 113's financial advisor, Tammie Schallmo, with PMA Securities.
The $25 million reduction will bring District 113's reserve funds below the recommended level of between 40 to 50 percent of the district's operating budget, according to board member Michael Smith. However, Smith assured attendees that the board would rebuild the reserve funds in the next five years.
"I am confident that our community will make wise choices," Smith said as he voiced his support for the referendum.
Should the referendum pass, construction will begin in 2014, starting with the Highland Park multipurpose gym and the new pool on Deerfield's campus. Between 2015 and 2017, building C at Highland Park will be demolished and rebuilt, and work will begin on the new pool on Highland Park's campus. Highland Park's building B will be refurbished during this period, and Deerfield will get a new media center.
"Education plays a vital role in the lives of our children," board member Bonnie Schlensky said. "We are teaching our kids in buildings that were built 50 to 100 years ago."
Work will end in 2018, with the repurposing of Deerfield's current pool. The plan was designed by the architecture firm Perkins and Will.
While members of the school board acknowledged that not everyone in the district would vote in favor of the referendum, they expressed optimism that even detractors would acknowledge that the district has made this project open to residents every step of the way.
"Hopefully we will agree we've been given so much information and information that we need to move forward," said board member Debra Hymen.
After the school board approved the referendum, residents spoke both in favor and against it.
"This is an excellent plan and you should all be proud of it," said Highland Park resident Dan Jenks. "The merits of this plan are strong enough to withstand any reasonable criticisms."
Sam Shapiro, who was one of the volunteers on a District 113 community group in 2012, was concerned that maintenance costs would increase dramatically as a result of a new HVAC system and other building improvements.
"There's been absolutely no analysis at this point of additional operating costs that will come with a significant expansion of facilities," Sam Shapiro, Highland Park resident, said.
However, Shapiro did not explicitly say he opposed the plan.
"The community will have a chance to weigh in and I look forward to participating in that process," he said.