Emergency repairs needed to secure the walls of the Forest Park Middle School gymnasium are scheduled to begin this week, and district administrators are increasingly optimistic that the project will cost less than initially projected.

Superintendent Lou Cavallo declined to say by how much the anticipated $337,000 price tag may be reduced. Early conversations with the construction firm hired to do the work suggest the cost may not be as great as predicted by an architect, said Cavallo, but those figures are not firm. A shorter timeline for completing the work could also be expected, said Cavallo. Steel needed for the project is available locally, which may help quicken the pace by a month, he said.

In early June, District 91 school board members learned that a series of cracks in the 28-foot high walls of the gym were indicative of a serious problem and could not be remedied through cosmetic improvements. The news was startling for several reasons, not the least of which is that in October 2007 Superintendent of Buildings and Grounds Robert Laudadio asked an architect to examine the cracks as a precautionary measure. At the time, it was determined that tuckpointing would be sufficient to fix any problems.

It is the same firm hired in 2007, STR Partners LLC, headed by architect Jan Taniguchi, that said last month the district needed to take drastic measures. During the school board’s July 9 meeting, Cavallo offered assurances that the costly repairs are needed.

“I have trust in Jan, it’s just a lot of money to spend without a second opinion,” Cavallo said.

With the help of another team of inspectors, Cavallo said a portion of the gym’s walls were opened to reveal structural deficiencies. That inspection confirmed Taniguchi’s suspicion that the walls were not reinforced, according to Cavallo. Further, it does not appear that the walls were properly connected to the foundation of the building.

“It is not tied in,” Cavallo said. “There are no structural beams.”

According to Taniguchi’s June report, the walls have likely been compromised by shoddy construction and wind. One of the walls, facing west, is actually starting to bow. The cracking and bending is being further exacerbated by water that seeps into the structure.

Taniguchi had proposed two options for fixing the 25-year-old building. The district could rebuild the gymnasium, or – as decided – reinforce the walls with a series of steel beams that will run horizontally along the interior surface. Similar repairs will also be made to a home economics classroom located on the northeast corner of the building.

Assistant Superintendent Ed Brophy said the entire structure would be inspected once these projects are complete.