Proviso High Schools District 209 officials are getting closer to finalizing a facilities master plan. During a regular meeting on Sept. 18, district officials, along with outside architectural and financial consultants, laid out cost projections and capital priorities related to the plan. D209 Supt. Jesse Rodriguez said the plan could be completed and presented to the board for approval before the year is out.
During the meeting, Mark Jolicoeur, an architect with Perkins and Will, said architects have met with the master plan steering committee and leadership teams at each school in order to prioritize capital needs.
The architects then categorized the general master facilities priorities into three different sub-groups: curriculum, site, and infrastructure. In addition, each sub-group was divided into three tiers of priority.
At all three of the district’s campuses — Proviso East, Proviso West and Proviso Math and Science Academy — upgrading and improving temperature controls (particularly installing air conditioning at East and West), were top tier infrastructure priorities.
At Proviso East, the highest priorities in the areas of curriculum and site improvement had to do with renovating and upgrading the athletic and physical education facilities.
Parking lot and traffic control improvements were tier one site priorities at PMSA and tier two site priorities at West, where upgrades to career and technical education instruction areas, the library and secured entry points were the highest priorities in the area of curriculum.
Jolicoeur emphasized that while the three-tiered hierarchy of priorities establishes an order of importance to capital improvements and informs the master plan sequencing, the hierarchy doesn’t necessarily dictate when improvements will happen. Not all first-tier priorities will be improved in the first phase of the master plan and not all phase one projects will be first-tier priorities.
“Let’s say we’re renovating a classroom,” Jolicoeur said. “If we’re taking down or putting in ceilings, we need to make sure that we’re taking care of the all of the infrastructure behind the ceilings so that we’re not coming back to take a ceiling down in order to do something two years later that you could have done while working on the ceilings [in the first place].”
Work on more pressing, state-mandated life-safety work, such as maintaining sprinkler systems, he said, could be combined with work related to the facilities master plan in order for the district to “get better efficiency out of your dollars.”
Still, he added, “there’s an inherent tension” in the plan that district officials must confront — how to strike a balance between funding upgrades and improvements, such as modernizing the library space that most drastically enhance the physical learning environment, and funding less visible, but necessary, improvements to walled-off infrastructure, such as severely outdated plumbing and electrical wiring.
But the extent of the long-term capital work that gets done depends on how much the board allocates for the improvements.
During the Sept. 18 meeting, Rodriguez laid out a three-phase capital funding plan that would give the district around $77 million in non-referendum funding over three to four years to pay for at least the initial stages of the final facilities master plan, which the superintendent said would likely take at least a decade to fully implement.
The first two phases of the funding plan have already been completed. They entailed the district paying off or refinancing roughly $25 million worth of bonds issued in 2008 that would reduce the cost of paying interest on debt by more than $5.2 million. The savings contributed to Standard & Poor increasing the district’s credit rating from A to A-plus in August.
The third phase of the funding plan involves three parts. The first would put $29 million toward funding the master facilities plan — $17 million with cash the district has on hand and $12 million transferred from the district’s roughly $40 million fund balance to its roughly $70 million capital fund.
At the meeting, the school board approved a surplus of around $5 million for the 2019 fiscal year, $4.5 million of which will go toward funding the implementation of the facilities master plan. Rodriguez said it’s difficult to foresee operating surpluses beyond five or six years due to a variety of factors, such as school board and administrative changes.
The second part of the capital funding plan projects two more years of $4.5 million budget surpluses allocated to master facilities projects in fiscal years 2020 and 2021, for a three-year total of $18 million. This part of the plan also includes $4.5 million worth of proceeds from refinancing those 2008 working cash bonds.
The third part entails the district borrowing up to $30 million worth of non-referendum bonds with no additional tax increases. This part of the plan assumes that the taxable value of new property keeps up with inflation over the next 20 years, district officials said.
Rodriguez said he presented the three-part, non-referendum capital funding plan at the school board’s request, even though he believes “the best option for this district is to do a referendum.”
Architects, financial consultants, and district officials are still working out just how much of the master plan the $77 million would fund. District officials did not disclose whether they would eventually need to supplement those non-referendum funding sources with referendum bonds.
What is clearer, Rodriguez stressed, is that the funding plan he presented requires the district to exercise incredible financial discipline or risk falling back into the red.
He urged the board to hew to several guiding principles that include maintaining a fund balance ratio of 33 percent, saving an average of $4.5 million, increasing the district’s credit rating from A-plus to AA or AAA, and increasing its financial standing with the state.
“If you don’t maintain these guiding principles, you’ll go back to 2007,” Rodriguez warned, when the district had a $14 million deficit.
The consensus of the board was to go with the capital funding plan that Rodriguez presented, although no formal vote was taken. The board also approved the first reading of a policy change that would raise the board’s recommended fund balance ratio from 25 percent to 33 percent. The board still needs to sign off on a second reading of the policy change before it can take effect.
The architects are expected to return to the school board with a more detailed draft master plan on Oct. 16. A town hall meeting will be held on Oct. 23, 6 p.m., at PMSA to discuss the details of the preliminary master plan, along with other issues related to building improvements. The school board could vote on a final master plan either in November or December, district officials said.