During a regular meeting on Aug. 14, the Proviso Township High Schools District 209 school board — along with members of the district’s Financial Oversight Panel (FOP), an architect from Perkins and Will, and D209 administrators — openly broached for the first time what it would take to pay for the facilities master plan the district has been working on for more than a year.
It could cost anywhere from $50 million to $100 million, according to a very rough guesstimate thrown out by Supt. Jesse Rodriguez during the regular board meeting, which was held immediately after a special joint meeting between the school board and the FOP.
Rodriguez cautioned that any conversation about the cost of improving and modernizing the district’s three campuses would “be brutal,” but necessary.
“I must warn you that these will be courageous conversations we’ll need to have,” he said, “because the needs are very high. We’re talking above $50 million.”
The Aug. 14 meeting served as something of a test case on just how tense and downright confusing those conversations might get.
Rodriguez said that funding the master facilities plan would be based on the decision to “have three buildings,” reinforcing a point made clear by Perkins and Will architect Michael Dolter during a June 12 presentation before the board in which he showed members a three-phase preliminary design scenario for each of the district’s three campuses.
An earlier design concept that entailed merging the campus of Proviso Math and Science Academy with either Proviso East or Proviso West was met with considerable backlash from PMSA students, family members and community members.
“There was a strong voice to maintain three facilities within the district,” Dolter said back in June. Since then, the concept of merging the campuses has not been part of the conceptual plans that Dolter has presented to the board.
Board member Rodney Alexander, however, expressed frustration and confusion with what he said was the “premature” decision of the architects and members of the facilities master plan steering committee to “abruptly” take the idea of merging the campuses “off the table because of misinformation.”
Alexander referenced a July 17 article published in Forest Park Review that described the architects as “scrapping” the proposed merger from the planning process. The board has not yet voted on any formal decisions and the steering committee hasn’t presented its final plan to the board.
Dolter said that the committee members and architects have not discarded any previous plans.
“We’ve never come to a point where we’ve thrown out information,” Dolter said. “We’ve compiled information and we’ve built upon it as we move through the process.”
But members of the FOP said that the clock is ticking when it comes to the district funding the plan, which would have to be more refined and finalized before more precise price tags come into play.
Craig Schiller, the FOP president, asked whether or not the district could start construction related to the plan in 2019, considering that the longer the district waits to fund the plan, the higher construction costs and interest rates will rise. District officials said that the 2019 timeframe would not be workable.
Schiller also suggested that the district involve the public in the funding process. He recommended that the district recruit community leaders to be on a steering committee that would vet finances associated with the plan.
“It’s important not to do this in isolation,” he said of the funding process.
Dolter said that the steering committee and architects will present completed master plan diagrams, phased sequencing of work, first phase projects and a preliminary budget in November.