A groundbreaking is being planned for later this month for a new science wing at Homewood-Flossmoor High School after the District 233 school board, meeting in special session July 12, approved a $29.7-million contract with Reed Construction for construction of a science wing on the South Building and improvements in the culinary and fashion design spaces in the North Building.
The decision was 4-2 in favor of the project. Board members Nate Legardy and Pam Jackson opposed the overall proposal. Members Gerald Pauling, Steve Anderson, Chris Riedel and Cynthia Turnquest voted for the projects. Member Michelle Hoereth was absent.
Legardy and Jackson agreed that a new science wing will be a plus for the school and would benefit all students, but they thought the culinary/fashion design project should have been prioritized as part of the district’s ongoing work.
Two years ago, estimates for the science wing were around $20 million, and the board borrowed that money. The board later agreed to add the North Building project to the science wing bid. Jackson wondered now that the estimate is “$7 million over, how did we get here? That’s a hard pill to swallow.”
“I just need to see the total picture for priorities,” Legardy said. Once the projects surpassed $20 million, Legardy said it became “a bit of a game changer” and the proposal now “was different than we originally considered. I would feel comfortable if we had a total picture.”
Anderson argued programs have changed over the last decade and culinary “became a priority, and it went through the normal (board review) process.” He said culinary is a program that needs to grow. There is a waiting list of students who want to be part of the program. Even if the district accommodates all those students, the program itself needs updating to prepare students for careers in the food industry.
The culinary program doesn’t now have the equipment or the capacity to do that, although the district is working toward students being able to earn dual-credit with Joliet Junior College and other culinary certificate programs.
Pauling said the culinary students “are losing the opportunity to compete at the next level. We need to create more capacity to meet the needs of those students. My sense is we will achieve some savings by doing that (culinary) project as part of this project, as opposed to doing it separate (as was originally planned) and having to pay more for it.”
Legardy argued the district doesn’t have a master plan for long-range initiatives; it only has a master plan for the Operations and Maintenance Department, and that focuses on roof replacement, parking lots, etc. Those costs are part of the district’s yearly budget.
Legardy pushed for more time so that the board could develop a five-year plan for projects that will benefit academics.
However, construction deadlines already are behind and delays would mean reduced offerings for culinary students and six months to a year delay on the science wing.
The culinary project has been discussed for more than two years. Superintendent Scott Wakeley said when he started as superintendent-elect in July 2021 under then Superintendent Von Mansfield, he was told the culinary project was a high priority. Culinary staff meetings and initial planning sessions were held in March 2022, and the architectural firm DLA Architects worked to update the culinary class space and create an industrial kitchen.
The plan took space from fashion design, and moving it gives an opportunity to give it an update.
When the district went out for bid on the culinary/fashion design work it estimated a $3.3 million cost, but bids were over that amount and the work was put on hold.
At the same time, the school board was moving ahead with plans for a science wing and decided to package the science wing and culinary/fashion design projects together.
The board went forward and borrowed $20 million in May 2022. The projects have been affected by rampant construction cost increases over the last year or two and now the district will be using that $20 million and taking money from its reserves to cover the additional costs.
Reed Construction’s bid was $26,996,506 — $22,998,520 for the science wing and $3,997,986 for the culinary/fashion design project. The accepted bid also includes another $2.7 million for “all-in” costs for fees, technology, furniture, fixtures, etc.
The science wing is being designed as a Net Zero building meeting green energy standards. It is estimated to save the district $82,000 a year in energy costs. By the designing the new space as an energy efficient addition, District 233 expects to receive a $2-million grant from Illinois Clean Energy once the building is in use for a year. The board also will receive a $40,000 ComEd New Construction Grant, and a $500,000 Illinois State Capital Improvement Grant.