The project to build two new Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math (STEAM) labs at the Field Stevenson Intermediate Elementary school and Forest Park Middle School, both at 925 Beloit Ave., is expected to be under budget, and a penalty has been added to ensure that the labs are completed by the start of the 2023-2024 school year.

The District 91 school board voted unanimously on Feb. 9 to award the renovation contract to Chicago-based Pacific Construction Services. Dr. Robert Hubbird, the district’s Assistant Superintendent of Finance and Operations, told the board that the company’s $853,189 bid is significantly below the $1.2 million budgeted for the contract. The district still needs to buy the furniture for the labs, as well as to hire one teacher per lab, but both of those items are expected to be ready for board approval by either March or April.

According to the plans released in December 2022, the labs will be built inside currently unused spaces in both schools. The long-term plan is to build labs in all district schools.

While the details vary to account for the students’ ages, and many specifics are still being finalized, both rooms would feature areas where students can do experiments, a more casual learning and research area, and an auditorium-style seating area where students can make presentations. Each lab will also feature a quiet area with transparent walls where students can work in groups while still being visible to the teachers in the main lab.

The district budgeted a total of $1.944 million for the project, with $200,000 of that covering furniture purchases. District 91’s 2023 budget allocated another $120,000 to hire teachers to staff the labs.

Hubbird told the board he was pleased to get eight bids for the construction and renovation, saying they expected five at most. He was even more pleased that the winning bid came under budget.

The next step is to buy the furniture and hire the teachers.

“Currently, we’re looking for furniture quotes,” Hubbird said. “We already know they should not exceed around $91,000 for both STEAM labs, so we’ll have that for you on the March board meeting to approve.”

Supt. Dr. Elizabeth Alvarez said the district put up job postings for the STEAM lab teachers in the first week of February. Hubbird said the district is still finalizing the lab curriculum.

“The team has reviewed five different curriculums and they’ve scheduled site visits to see some of these curriculums in action,” he said. “We’re hoping to have recommendations for you in March or April.”

Board member John Lyons asked about the “penalty clause” in the contract with Pacific if they miss the deadline. Hubbird confirmed that the clause will kick in if the labs aren’t finished by Aug. 14.

Board President Kyra Tyler said that she was happy to see the project move forward.

“We’re making a huge investment for our students,” she said. “I’m excited about this.”