Skyrocketing costs put H-F culinary, fashion design projects on hold

The District 233 school board has decided now is not the time to launch a major renovation project for its culinary and fashion design programs.

Supply chain issues, labor shortages and federal dollars generating construction work in schools are impacting efforts to get the work at Homewood-Flossmoor High School off the ground, said Ed Wright, architect with DLA Architects, who is helping design the space for culinary, fashion design and interior design classes.

The district solicited bids for the work, but they were way over the district‘s $3 million budget.

Wright said when H-F’s fine arts wing was begun in May 2019, the cost was approximately $350 a square foot. That was new construction. By contrast, this project calls for remodeling space in the North Building. Wright said he estimated costs at $400 a square foot.

The district got seven bids, but the contracts came in at about $525 a square foot. Wright said getting seven bids was promising but the costs were out of line, and several bidders said it was because costing more to guarantee they’d have subcontractors lined up for the job.

Board member Nate Legardy called the bids “eye-popping.” Although he admitted “there’s no guarantee the market’s going to deflate, but perhaps it’ll cool off a bit.”

The original plan was to start part of the work remodeling one classroom over the holiday break and the major renovation and build-out for a commercial kitchen would be done over the summer, but the board took Wright’s suggestion to put the project on hold.

“It’s fiscally responsible to wait. We’re not going to stop the project per se, we’re just putting it on pause,” said Superintendent Scott Wakeley.  

Wright said he is hoping by spring the market cost will have dropped some, but he told board members not to expect they will drop down to the $3 million cost it originally projected. 

The district already put the new science wing on hold until spring because of the expected high costs. 

The district borrowed $20 million to cover construction costs.  A delay of the projects will not have a negative effect on its borrowing agreement because the district has a three-year window to spend that money, said Lawrence Cook, chief school business official for District 233. 

Wakeley said he met with the faculty, and they were understanding of the situation.

Board member Debbie Berman said despite the high costs, she doesn’t want to see the board make any changes to the culinary and fashion design proposal. She recalled how things were cut from the fine arts project only to be added back later.

She also wondered what the district could do to try and accommodate the students who aren’t getting into the popular culinary program. Some students have been forced onto waiting lists due to the limited space, and others who want to advance don’t have the opportunity because H-F doesn’t have a commercial kitchen. 

The project’s biggest expense is the commercial kitchen. Wright had estimated the equipment would be between $610,000 and $650,000, but in summer he admitted that supply chain issues could cause delays and possibly cost increases.

The superintendent said the program “can’t accommodate more students than we are. And unfortunately, by pushing back (construction), the implication is not all students are going to be able to take the class. That’s the unfortunate nature of this, although we knew that next year we’d be in that situation because we’d be under construction.”

Wright’s new target is to rebid the culinary and fashion design work in a March/April timeframe along with the science wing proposal. He’s thinking putting the bids together may help reduce costs, and it could help keep the culinary project on schedule for summer work.

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