OPRF hires firm, kicks off capital campaign

D200 board approves contract with Peppers Construction Company

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By Michael Romain

Staff Reporter

District 200's facilities improvement effort has moved forward on multiple fronts in the last several weeks.

During a regular school meeting on Aug. 22, the school board voted unanimously on a contract with Chicago-based Pepper Construction Company. The firm was chosen from 11 firms that responded to a request for proposals. The district had been in negotiations with Pepper Construction since June. 

During a special board meeting on June 18, D200 Chief Operations Officer Mike Carioscio said Peppers would be able to dig deeper into Imagine OPRF's capital improvement recommendations. 

"One of the things that keeps me awake at night is how we do this and minimize school disruption," he said in reference to the first phase work. "We're actually talking about taking the cafeteria down. We've got a bunch of kids we have to feed, so we have to figure that out, too. How do we manage all of this with minimal impact to school operations?" 

Peppers will oversee first-phase capital improvement projects totaling around $32.6 million. As previously reported, improvements include the renovation or construction of 76 general education classrooms, the reconstruction of the south cafeteria, the relocation of the library, the addition of all-gender bathrooms and the first phase of work on a new student common area, among other improvements. The work would be funded by spending cash reserves. 

At a Committee of Whole meeting on Aug. 13, the school board unanimously directed administrators to try breaking ground on that first phase of work by June 2020. 

In December, Supt. Joylynn Pruitt-Adams told school board members she would return to them no later than May 2020 with a plan to fund the remaining improvement projects, which could cost an estimated $65.4 million and includes improvements to the school's physical education spaces.

Pruitt-Adams specified that at least half of that should be covered by private donations of at least $10 million, increases in the annual property tax levy equal to the Consumer Price Index and $20 million from the district's capital fund. 

In March, the D200 school board unanimously approved a contract with the Oak Park-River Forest Community Foundation to establish the Imagine Fund, which will house private donations that the district hopes to raise in order to offset the second round of construction projects arising from the Imagine OPRF long-term master facilities planning process.

On Aug. 22, Lynn Kamenitsa, who along with Mike Poirier served as an Imagine OPRF co-chair, said community leaders had created the Oak Park and River Forest High School Imagine Foundation LLC, or OPRF Imagine Foundation for short, in order to help raise private funds for capital campaigns. 

Kamenitsa currently sits on the Imagine Foundation's board alongside former D200 board member Fred Arkin and local businessman and philanthropist Stephen Schuler. 

The board members stated in a memo that the foundation has contracted with Campbell & Company, a development consulting firm, to assist with "crafting a case for philanthropy, creating appropriate fundraising infrastructure, designing a capital campaign plan with achievable goals, and assessing donors' interest in such a campaign. The foundation, not the district, is funding this work." 

Supt. Pruitt-Adams said on Aug. 22 that donors would have the latitude to determine which projects they want their money to fund, but the board and administration would first determine which projects need funding. That won't be an easy balancing act, but it's rather common in philanthropy, the foundation board members explained. 

"We're raising funds with the idea of what the Imagine projects are," Schuler said on Aug. 22. "We're going to have to figure out how to create the triggers in the agreement around how that happens. It will take work, but we're comfortable we can work with the administration to figure that out." 

CONTACT: michael@oakpark.com  

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Kevin Peppard  

Posted: September 5th, 2019 10:19 PM

The "$20 million from the district's capital fund is really from the Education Fund, where most of the last decade's over-taxation went. It was recently transferred from there, rather than return it back to the taxpayers. At one point, the District had 808 days worth of cash on hand, where the State gives an excellent rating for only 180 days. Your over-taxation was not given back. It was not saved for instruction. It is going to build a large pool, among other things. That cost should have been spread over the long term via bonds, so that the generation that uses it helps to pay it off. Instead, we gave an unwarranted gift of $20 million to the future, setting a bad habit. Those people won't know what it actually costs to run a school- -- a lot. They had no skin in the game.

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: September 5th, 2019 5:58 PM

Are the donors paying for the design firm? No, the taxpayers are. This is just ignoring the referendum vote.

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