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Big price tag for OPRF facilities plan

The first 3 of 5 phases of 10-year plan to cost estimated $145M

September 11th, 2018 7:00 PM

10-YEAR PLAN: A chart released by Imagine OPRF shows the design, bidding and construction phases of each of the five sequences in the draft master plan. The most aggressive scenario has all five sequences being complete within six years from the start to finish. | Imagine OPRF

By Michael Romain

Staff Reporter

For the first time since it formed in August 2017 to develop a long-term master facilities plan at Oak Park and River Forest High School, the Imagine OPRF working group has released hard cost estimates and a draft 10-year master plan. 

The plan is divided into five different "sequences" that would allow it "to be implemented flexibly over a 6-10 year period," according to documentation released by Imagine OPRF on Sunday. 

"The sequences are designed to enable [the] school to function during construction, to have facilities reasonably whole during periods between sequences, and to allow pauses between some sequences to give students, faculty and staff respite between construction projects," according to the documentation.

Cost estimates are only available for the first three construction sequences, which cover a four-year schedule. The estimated cost of the projects within those first three sequences totals roughly $145 million. 

During an interview on Sept. 9, Imagine OPRF co-chairs Lynn Kamenitsa and Mike Poirier explained why the group did not provide cost estimates beyond the first three sequences. 

"We do not have cost estimates for sequences four and five because they're further down the road," Kamenitsa said. "There are a lot of things that can change between now and then; not only in terms of what the costs might be, but in terms of the plan. A master plan is a living document. This is the best we have right now." 

According to Imagine OPRF documents, the cost estimates for the first three sequences of the draft plan were derived from the square footage and conceptual plans created by Perkins & Will architects. The unit costs were derived from historical bids from public schools that have been built in the Chicago suburbs. 

In addition, members noted, the cost estimates include a 4 percent per year escalation of labor and material costs, a total of 12 percent for design and construction contingencies, construction manager fees and soft costs, such as testing, engineering and municipality fees. 

Timeframes for all five of the sequences could vary. Imagine OPRF members conceptualized completion schedules based on three different scenarios: aggressive, which would entail completing all five sequences in the plan within six years; model, within eight years; and conservative, within 10 years. 

The first sequence contains four primary components, including a new and relocated two-story Student Resource Center (i.e., the library) and Tutoring Center, which will be built above the existing South Cafeteria; renovated and expanded space for Special Education administration and Transitional Education with Access to the Mainstream (TEAM) program spaces; new visual arts spaces on the third floor; and 76 renovated classrooms on the second, third and fourth floors.

The first sequence would extend out into the third year of the plan, with the working group allocating around a year-and-a-half for the design and bidding process and another 14 months for construction. This sequence is the only one among the five where the aggressive, moderate and conservative scenarios all project the same timeframe for completion. The total estimated cost for the first sequence is $28.5 million. 

"Outside of physical education, the only expansion of the school is this two-story library and tutoring center over the South Cafeteria," Poirier said. "It does not change the footprint. It goes right up over the South Cafeteria. It's important that this is first for a number of reasons, one is because a whole bunch of dominos fall behind that." 

Poirier said the library expansion and relocation would free up space for new, well-lit classrooms and larger Special Education and TEAM programming space, which is currently undersized.

The second sequence would focus on improving the physical education spaces. The current facilities east of the field house will be replaced with a new, 4-story facility that will house new changing rooms and lockers (including transgender ones), a new three-court competition gym, a new swimming pool, spaces for PE and athletic offices and support spaces like conference rooms and laundry facilities, a weight room, a multipurpose dance room and storage space.

The design, bidding and construction phases for the second sequence could take anywhere from three years (according to the aggressive scenario) up to four years (according to the conservative scenario). The total cost for the second sequence is an estimated $66.7 million. 

"For one school year, there's going to be some significant disruption in physical education and athletics that folks are going to have to figure their way around, but the key thing is that at the end of this sequence, almost everything that was torn down here, functionally, is replaced here — and a little bit more because all of the new locker rooms are included," Poirier said.

That construction, however, would not significantly disrupt the academic environment, Kamenitsa said, adding that Imagine has outlined contingency plans for dealing with the construction. 

She noted that architects "have looked at the whole building and decided that, given the size of the project, we can do this without temporary classrooms and those kinds of things. So we've thought about it and have experts who looked at it, but we are not looking at, say, where do we put volleyball instruction?"

The third sequence would build a new 4-story structure on the west end of the field house that will house more space for physical education and athletics, including a new multipurpose wrestling room, team equipment storage space, a multipurpose gymnastics space and an adaptive gymnasium and cardio room. 

The design, bidding and construction phases for the third sequence could extend out to the third or fourth year of the plan, depending on the scenario. The total cost estimate for this sequence is $49.6 million. 

The fourth sequence would include relocating the administrative offices near the main entrance, and renovating 26 classrooms, seven science labs and faculty office space. 

The final sequence would include renovating the remaining classrooms, faculty offices and commons area, relocating the three-court competition gymnasium built in the second sequence to the first floor of the existing field house, building a new 200-meter indoor track facility, installing new synthetic surface on the west field area and renovating the trainer and locker rooms below the stadium seating.

Kamenitsa and Poirier said they're prepared for the likely sticker-shock some residents may have in reaction to the cost estimates, but they're hoping the board chooses to fund the early phases of the plan with a portion of the district's significant fund balance. They did not specify how much of the fund balance they hope the board uses.

"At some point, some sort of referendum is almost certainly going to be required," Poirier said. "We're not insensitive to this situation, but I think for people in the community, this will come down to a value judgment. Is this a good value investment for this community, and we're hopeful the majority of the people will think this is." 

Poirier added that the OPRF campus "has not had a consequential investment in 51 years — it looks and functions like it." 

Kamenitsa said equity is at the center of the master plan. Referencing the Starz documentary, America to Me, she said some people may try to frame the master plan as an either/or proposition — "equity or facilities."

"We at Imagine see it the opposite way," she said, noting that the working group operated from the perspective that physical space can play a significant role in facilitating or mitigating inequities. Kamenitsa said the group spoke to hundreds of marginalized students who expressed that they don't feel welcome on the campus as it exists.  

"The facilities literally shape what policies can be implemented inside of them," she said. "Space matters." 

A community engagement meeting, designed to get public feedback on the draft master plan, is scheduled to take place at OPRF on Oct. 3. 

CONTACT: michael@oakpark.com