New Trier seeks to refine renovation costs ahead of Aug. 14 meeting

As the deadline to place its proposed renovation plan on the November ballot nears, officials at New Trier High School are attempting to finalize the proposal.

At a special board meeting July 24, representatives from Pepper Construction and Wight & Company met with board members to provide updated renderings, floor plans, models, a daylight study, a receiving area study and cost estimates for the proposed Winnetka campus renovation plan.

Among the key topics discussed was the total cost estimate, which now sits at slightly less than $102.5 million.

While the number is more than New Trier’s initial budget of $100 million, the potential bond issuance remains the same at $89 million. Previously, the district’s Finance Committee pledged $11 million in district reserves toward the project, and recommended using an additional $2.5 million in reserves, if needed.

“I’m disappointed we’re at $102.5 million,” said Board Member Greg Robitaille. “That said, we’re not done yet. My hope is and my expectation is we will continue to work really hard and bring that price down and get as close to $100 million as possible.”

Robitaille said New Trier officials considered shrinking the size of the building or eliminating portions of the fourth floor to reduce the cost, but didn’t want to cut into the “meat and bones” of the proposal.

“I think this is the right project for New Trier for the next 50-100 years,” Robitaille said. “It’s something the community would be proud of.”

If approved, the proposal would call for the demolition of the 1912 cafeteria, the 1931 tech arts building and 1950 music building, with one new building replacing all three. According to the architects, the proposed building would include 27 new 900-square foot classrooms, which would increase the campus’ area for course programming by 35 percent.

Board Members John Myefski and Patrick O’Donoghue were disappointed that the costs were greater than New Trier had hoped for.

“I have a big problem with the budget aspect of this,” Myefski said. “$100 million is enough money. I want to be cautious. I agree, it is somewhat subjective, but it is the number that we set.”

Board Member Peter Fischer said initial cost estimates were around $106 million, but some work dropped the costs to the $102.5 million number.

“We want to get to a point where we’re doing the right thing building this building and getting what we need out of this building,” Fischer said. “It’s not as if we took $100 million and went up to $102 million. We took $106 million and went down to $102 million.”

Robitaille said the Facilities Steering Committee would again look at ways to bring the cost down prior to the Aug. 14 special meeting.

“It’s fair to ask,” Robitaille said. “Let us go back and we’ll do it again.”

The special meeting will take place at the Northfield campus, and board members will be provided another update on the proposal. The Board is then expected to vote on whether to place the $89 million referendum question on the November ballot.

If the board votes to proceed with the referendum, schematic design work will begin and continue until early November.

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