Highland Park residents await school estimates
Steven Turckes, a principal with the architectural firm of Perkins + Will, contributes to a presentation on District 113 facility improvements at Deerfield High School. | Michael Schmidt~Sun-Times Media
Updated: January 12, 2013 9:46AM
DEERFIELD — Township High School District 113 officials aren’t saying with certainty there will be a second referendum attempt next April.
But they’ve started afresh with a new team of architects, a new construction manager and a legion of citizens better versed in the building deficiencies at Highland Park and Deerfield high schools.
The $133 million bond question put to voters in 2011 failed 43.5 to 56.5 percent.
“The community has obviously said they don’t want a Cadillac,” said David Brint, a Highland Park resident and member of the district’s Leadership Team. The team is pulling together the work of a half-dozen study panels convened after the question failed.
“The message is pretty clear that (citizens) want a functional building that kids can learn in, and be comfortable in, but they don’t need it to be cushioned with fur,” Brint said.
Brint was one of two team members who facilitated the first community presentation on the Long Range Master Plan Sept. 4 at Deerfield High School. Residents hoping to see a firm list of recommended improvements — complete with cost estimates — will have to wait a little longer. School officials expect to have options with cost estimates available by the next community presentation at 7 p.m. Oct. 2 at Highland Park High School.
Co-facilitator Walter Hainsfurther said one guiding principle is that any improvements made to the buildings should last at least a generation. He noted the oldest air handling system at Highland Park High School is 72 years old.
“We got our money’s worth out of that. It wasn’t a Cadillac, but it had value for the taxpayers,” he said.
Architects from Perkins + Will said Highland Park High School in particular is showing signs of age, and reflects the way the building was expanded in multiple stages. The connected buildings have at most six floors, but are constructed on 49 different levels.
“This was not uncommon,” said Mark Jolicoeur of Perkins + Will, noting that accessibility was not so much a consideration before the Americans with Disabilities Act. According to the firm, 11 percent of Highland Park High School is not handicapped accessible. The same is true for 4 percent of Deerfield High School. Remedying ADA issues is at the top of the priority list.
The architects said classrooms in what is known as the B and C buildings at Highland Park High School, built in 1914, are very small, reflecting a time when student desks were close together and the teacher delivered instruction from the front of the classroom.
The 2011 referendum called for demolishing those buildings and constructing a new three-story wing. This time, architects were instructed to explore what can be done with existing facilities before proposing new construction. The price of exterior repairs was pegged this summer at between $4.5 million and $8.5 million with additional dollars needed for interior renovations. The architects plan to present a cost-comparison of new construction versus renovation later this fall.
The final recommendations are likely to include new swimming pools at both high schools, a lightning rod during the last referendum campaign.
“It was determined that each school needed a pool for physical education,” said Brint, responding to an anonymous question about why the schools couldn’t share a pool. “Both pools need to be replaced. Busing kids back and forth between schools was not deemed a reasonable option.”
Hainsfurther offered another perspective on why taxpayers should invest in the schools’ facilities. “The bottom line is that these facilities are our assets,” he said. “If we treat them like assets, we have to invest in them.
“From my standpoint as a taxpayer, I don’t want assets,” he noted, “that look like these schools.” The deadline for submitting a referendum question for the April 9, 2013, ballot is Jan. 22, 2013.