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Superintendent encouraged as Lake Forest High renovations about to start; ‘We will do our darnedest to be under (budget)’

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The initial phase of Lake Forest High School’s renovation is scheduled to start this summer, with officials saying they have received some related positive financial news thus far, but acknowledging that could change.

District 115 Superintendent Matthew Montgomery led a presentation last month at the LFHS library updating the community on the planned facelift to the nearly 90-year-old McKinley Road building. In April of 2023, area voters narrowly approved a $105.7 million bond sale referendum to fund the project.

“We recognize the significant responsibility we shoulder in managing your tax dollars, while planning these improvements not just for today or even this decade, but in light of future generations of learners,” he said.

LFHS officials said the building enhancements will fall into five categories of maintenance and infrastructure, safety and security, ADA accessibility, student support spaces and improved laboratories, classrooms and technologies.

In the short term, planning is being set for what is being labeled the “enabling phase” of the work, with a cost estimate of $7.6 million. The much larger components of the project will start in the summer of 2025, and are expected to be completed by 2029.

Elizabeth Hennessy, the financial advisor for the referendum bond issue, said the school’s Triple A bond rating — in combination with the large size of the bond issue — allowed District 115 to secure the bonds at a lower interest rate than originally anticipated.

Hennessy indicated the current projection has the additional property tax impact on the 20-year bond sale at $423 per year for a $500,000 home, and $870 for a $1 million house. That is lower than the $474 and $974 estimates issued when voters went to the polls.

“We are very pleased that it came in much lower than the promise at the time,” Hennessy said.

Hennessy added the property tax hit would decrease in 2027, when the bonds from a 2006 bond sale are set to drop off the tax rolls. She said at that point, there would be a reduction of $202 for a $500,000 home, and $414 for a $1 million home.

Property taxpayers will see the initial impact on their bills this spring, Hennessy said.

District 115 officials said they received other good news when the bids for the “enabling phase” of the work came in about $1 million lower than expected, and are now estimated to be $7.6 million.

Montgomery is pleased with the initial numbers.

“I will not make the promise to be early because of the complexity of this process, but I will make the commitment to the community to be on budget and we will do our darnedest to be under, acknowledging there are many different variables that are outside of our control,” he said.

Still Montgomery, who presided over a renovation at a Revere, Ohio school district before being hired in Lake Forest in 2021, conceded there could always be changes.

“In a $105.7 million (project), you know there are going to be some curveballs,” he said. “But I’m confident we have foreseen all the ones we can and we will address them accordingly.”

There is a $469,000 construction contingency fund in the enabling phase budget, according to district documents.

In terms of the physical work, Montgomery said the district is getting fixtures and equipment now, as well as trying to create “swing space” to manage education while classes are ongoing as part of the enabling phase.

“How we can shift around the building to capture space while we are working on other sections,” Montgomery said, adding the district is trying to avoid spending money on trailers. “The more swing space we can find in this enabling project helps us to move more efficiently through the life of the project, and hopefully minimizing the impact on staff and students.”

Rick Young, the lead architect on the project, said he and his associates have already made plans for work this summer as the school’s graphic design and photography labs will be relocated.

Young added there are ongoing conversations with faculty of other departments, with renovations on other parts of the building as part of the ongoing design work.

Changes may also be coming to the library, and an idea under consideration is removing the traditional student lockers allowing for a small increase of classroom size.

“It allows for more flexibility for things to happen inside that classroom,” Young said.

With the project in its infancy, LFHS enters what could be an interesting period. One person with experience on the subject of school renovations is Linda Yonke, who presided over large physical changes at New Trier High School’s Winnetka campus, as well as at York High School in Elmhurst.

“In any project like this, you have to expect the unexpected,” she said. “That’s the main thing. You plan for every contingency you can. There are always going to be surprises. You have to be ready for that very purpose.”

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Daniel I. Dorfman , 2024-05-07 19:09:53

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