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Letter to the Editor: District 113 Board Presses Forward

District 113 School Board's letter to the editor explains capital improvement progress and philosophy for future.

Dear Community Members:

In the April 2011 general election, District 113 Board of Education’s proposed referendum designed to update the aging and inadequate facilities at Highland Park and Deerfield High Schools was defeated.  These facility needs have not gone away; they remain urgent and critical.  The District administration and the Board are determined to continue to work closely with the community to develop an acceptable long term plan to address these needs and update our schools in order to provide our students with a 21st century education in facilities that are safe, productive and conducive to learning.

More than one year ago, the District developed a plan to engage ALL those members of the community willing to get involved, share their time, expertise, and opinions, in an effort to develop a BETTER plan. District 113 also reached out to those who opposed the original plan and encouraged them to get involved in the process.

Approximately 100 such individuals volunteered and committed substantial time to this process over the past year through their participation in one or more of six study groups (Leadership, Systems, 1914 Buildings and Athletics, Finance, Teaching and Learning, and Market Research).  Over the course of this past year, the 100 community members through six committees met in aggregate over 60 times.  For their significant contribution we are most grateful and appreciative. 

Every participant was consistently given an opportunity to express their views and opinions.  No one was silenced, excluded, or ignored whatever their perspective.  Senior District staff members and selected Board Members were involved to facilitate and add perspective to the meetings.  Their role was NOT to direct or manage the outcome of the meetings or the conclusion of the groups.

The mission of our study group process “was to create facilities that foster educational excellence while respecting the District’s taxpayers.” Each study group highlighted the importance of being fiscally responsible and sensitive to the difficult economic environment.  A significant focus of the process was identifying District and student “needs” versus “wants.”

Recently on May 21st, the Leadership study group presented their preliminary recommendations representing the collective work of the 100 community members, six committees, and 60 aggregate meetings.  This presentation and the District’s Press Release summarizing their recommendations are available on the District’s website. 

These recommendations were extremely substantive, definitive, and thoughtful.  And we are VERY appreciative of the hard work, insights, and ideas presented by these individuals.  THANK YOU VERY MUCH!

In particular and notably, the study groups made these specific recommendations:

  • Hire Perkins and Will as the District 113 architects (approved by the Board in early May 2012)
  • Hire Building Technology Consultants, PC as the District’s independent engineers (currently under consideration  by the Board)
  • Hire an independent construction manager to assist in developing cost estimates as well as for project management (currently in RFQ by the District)
  • Create an “oversight committee” of community member experts to continue to guide and manage the process
  • Develop a long term appropriately funded maintenance program managed by a full time, capable facilities manager
  • Safety and compliance issues are a priority; correct  ADA issues
  • Facilities life should be extended for a minimum of 25 years
  • Create flexible classroom spaces to facilitate learning
  • Pilot and phase in new technology over time
  • Any area that is “touched” should be renovated to meet current safety and code standards
  • Physical education should be distinguished from and considered more important than sports programs
  • Renovate the 1914 buildings at Highland Park High School if more fiscally responsible
  • For all projects, consider replacement rather than repair if more fiscally responsible
  • All projects need a second, independent opinion on all cost estimates
  • District 113 should maintain its high AAA rating and not borrow from fund balances to meet long term facility needs
  • Any financing of long term facility needs should be funded over the long term (e.g., the statutory maximum of 20 years)

In addition, the study groups directly and comprehensively addressed the identification and categorization of “needs” versus “wants” by creating a four tier priority structure:

  • Tier I – Urgent/vital to core school functions
  • Tier II – Important need, supports school functions
  • Tier III – Should have, important to building a vital school community
  • Tier IV – Nice to have, sets the school apart from its peers

The Leadership committee identified these urgent and important Tier I/II “needs”:

  • Life safety concerns (ADA, code compliance)
  • Air quality/temperature, lighting, energy efficiency, technology infrastructure
  • Flexible classroom spaces to facilitate learning
  • Circulation/student movement in high schools
  • Both high schools’ pools, indoor tracks, dance studios
  • Increased number and quality of usable PE teaching spaces at both high schools
  • DHS library, locker rooms, PE fields
  • HPHS “B”, “C”, and “C “ Annex, weight room, cardio lab, indoor track, intramural and exhibition gyms

While the process was arduous and time consuming (and unfortunately took longer than originally expected), it is crystal clear that the recommendations and categorization of needs versus wants presented by the study groups are logical, specific, comprehensive and actionable.

We have a direction and an action plan and it is the intention of the District and the Board to continue to develop a proposal to address the aging and inadequate facilities of our schools.  We are very sensitive to costs and the impact that addressing these needs will have on taxpayers.  And, armed with the demographic enrollment projections prepared by study group experts, we will be able to scale our “needs” to reflect the expected student population in 10 years. 

Now that we have an action plan, our professional team can start developing options with specific cost estimates (developed through reliable methods) for us to evaluate and consider.

As we develop our plans, we expect that we will continue to receive negative sentiment from special interest groups.  For those that are willing to be constructive and engaged, we will continue to be inclusive.  And, we will continue to listen to and consider alternative ideas.

We will not, however, be derailed or misdirected in our mission by special interest groups that do not agree with the core recommendations or the assessments of “needs” versus “wants” as determined by the collective work of the 100 community members, via six study groups, through an aggregate of 60 meetings that occurred over the last 12 months, or that want to rush the creation of a final plan without utilizing proven school design experts, reliable and independent estimates of costs in developing and considering alternatives to address our “needs.”

We will continue our work carefully and methodically, as we believe that we have been asked by the community, making certain that the i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed. We will continue to be transparent in this process, keeping the community involved and informed as we progress. Most importantly, we will continue to keep the education and safety of our students as our top priority.

Sincerely,

Township High School District 113 Board of Education:

Harvey Cohen, President

Marjie Sandlow, Vice-president

Debbie Hymen

Annette Lidawer

Bonnie Shlensky

David Small

Michael Smith

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David Greenberg June 01, 2012 at 09:44 PM
Thank you. As I've said a few times already - when this process is complete, we ought to write it up and package it as a case study for other School Boards to use. A lot of work has been done by everyone - I expect that quite a bit more work will be done, and look forward to continuing to participate in the process.
Harry Steindler June 02, 2012 at 04:08 AM
Agreed David.

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