Understanding the March 2018 Ballot Question: Frequently Asked Questions
On March 20, 2018, registered voters in the District 99 community approved issuing bonds to address capital facility improvements at North High and South High. The following are the questions and answers that were provided to inform the community.
Please click on each section heading to see questions and answers.
What is the Master Facility Plan?
The Master Facility Plan (MFP) is a comprehensive plan to ensure that North High and South High facilities support the educational needs of District 99 students today and in the future.
In 2011, District 99 created a strategic plan. (See full strategic plan report here.) It was created with the input from over 300 community members, who identified District 99 facilities as a weakness. As a result, the Board of Education directed District 99 administration to create a MFP to address its facility needs.
In 2013, district administration and architects began making building assessments as well as conducting input sessions with staff, Board of Education members, and community members. From 2013 to 2016, District 99 worked with the Board of Education to identify and prioritize its facility needs and to develop a proposal that modernizes and makes significant upgrades in functionality to both schools.
Efforts to inform the entire community about the MFP took place throughout 2017. Starting in April, six community presentations and tours were held. The District also commissioned a phone poll survey (read report of results) as well as mailed an informational letter and survey all households in District 99 (read report of results).
To further vet the MFP, a 40-member Citizen Task Force—comprised of business leaders, civic leaders and other community members—was assembled in 2017. It met four times in 2017 to weigh in on proposed improvements and funding options, and to make a recommendation to the District 99 superintendent for moving forward.
For a full timeline of the process, please go to this link.
What is included in the Master Facility Plan?
Improvements at both schools include:
- Security enhancements, including the installation of two entry vestibules at each school that will allow staff members to screen visitors before they are admitted into the buildings.
- Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) improvements, both inside and outside the two buildings, to enhance accessibility for students, staff and visitors with disabilities.
- Air conditioning in all classrooms. Approximately 35% of classrooms at both North High and South High currently do not have air conditioning.
- Updating classrooms and science labs at North High to leverage new instructional technologies and evolving teaching methods, including STEM and collaborative, project-based learning. This includes renovating our culinary arts labs to reflect changes in the industry.
- Creating a Learning Commons that will serve as the educational “Main Street” for each high school. These flexible spaces will be designed to meet the academic requirements and social-emotional needs of students. Students will have direct access to the offices of key resources, including college and career counselors, social workers, psychologists, counselors, activities, technology support, deans, cafeteria, library and bookstore. Creating this centralized space will make the offices more easily accessible for students. The new spaces will be used for teaching and learning during the day and be available for community use during off hours.
- Enhancements to outdoor spaces and fields, including the addition of locker rooms and training rooms as well as the replacement of bleachers, to make them accessible for students, staff and visitors with disabilities.
Improvements specific to South High include:
- Expand and improve the auditorium. There are 2,700 students at the school; the auditorium seats 856 students. When the stage is expanded to accommodate concerts and plays, there is less seating. Performances are often held in the gym, which limits programming. When South High opened in 1964, it was intended to house grades 9 and 10 only. When it was converted to a traditional 9-12 school, the auditorium was not expanded. The new auditorium will seat 1,200 students and will significantly increase versatility of scheduling. The new auditorium also will make the space equitable to North High’s auditorium, which also seats 1,200 students.
- Create a secure main entrance. Relocating the main entrance will place it in a more prominent place, which will allow visitors to make it easier to locate and prevent guests from gaining entry at other doors. Changes will also improve traffic flow and allow for the school’s exterior to be updated. There will also be a secured entrance vestibule at the West Events entrance.
- Improve outdoor space. South has limited outdoor spaces available during the wetter times of the year and has experienced a continual growing number of activities and athletic groups. Adding a second synthetic field would provide additional consistently usable outdoor space for physical education, athletics, activities, and the community. Improvements will make outdoor space equitable to North High.
Improvements specific to North High include:
- Expand and improve the cafeteria. The 1958 cafeteria is undersized for the current student population. The plan provides for ramp accessibility between levels. Serving line space will be expanded and reconfigured for easier access and shorter wait times for students during lunch periods. Improvements will make space equitable to South High.
- Improve safety and security. By reconfiguring the west side of the building (Prince Street Circle), students will no longer be placed in the same space as delivery trucks. There will also be secured entrance vestibules at Main Street and Prince Street Circle entrances.
- Replace the original gym. The comprehensive reconfiguration of the west side of the building (Prince Street Circle) includes creating a new gymnasium and fitness area and converting the original gym to a loading dock. The new space will accommodate a growing number of activities, physical education courses and athletic programs, provide another comprehensive gymnasium, another venue for large group activities, and an additional space for the community to use. Adding this comprehensive gymnasium creates equitable facilities to South High.
What educational and curricular changes make this project necessary to best serve District 99 students?
Education has evolved and learning today is much more collaborative, project-based and involves technology. Students no longer sit in rows and demonstrate proficiency by taking tests, but work in groups and rely on technology. Modernizing our facilities, buildings and furnishings will reflect and support this evolution, promote academic success and progress, and look like the next places District 99 students will study and work.
What are the safety and security benefits of the MFP?
Secured entrances will be created at both North High and South High. Secure entrances will have two doors with an entry vestibule in the middle. Visitors will wait in the vestibule while their government IDs are checked and visitor badges are issued. Once visitors are granted clearance, they will be admitted into the building.
At both schools, new outdoor bleachers will include storage and space underneath for athletic teams to use as squad rooms. Currently, teams at both schools use garages as their squad rooms. The garages are not ideal since they are filled with tools, chemicals, fuel and mechanical devices. The squad rooms will also help trainers to respond quickly in emergency situations.
At North High, relocating the dock on the west side of the school will improve safety by creating separate areas for trucks and pedestrians.
What is the timing of constructing secured entrances?
We are currently working to identify and put into place improvements in safety measures that we can make without the significant structural changes outlined in our Master Facility Plan. This includes adding a buzzer system to restrict access to our buildings by visitors after the school day begins.
The air-locked entrances, which will allow us to screen visitors before gaining access to our buildings, will need to be architecturally designed, will impact other areas of the building, and cannot be financed without the passage of the referendum. If the referendum should pass, this larger design process and construction will begin as soon as possible. It is a priority.
We will continue to evaluate and make improvements in a variety areas related to safety and security in the meantime.
What ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) improvements are being made?
The District’s goal is to be as inclusive as possible. Four new sets of bleachers will be installed; two at each school. New bleachers will have safety features, allowing us to comply with current (2010) ADA standards. There is a safe harbor, or “grandfather” clause, that exempts existing elements that meet 1991 standards. The existing bleachers at both schools are protected under this clause, as they were installed 25 years ago, in 1992.
The Learning Commons at both schools would be constructed to provide equal access to all levels without the use of a lift. In addition, furnishings that adhere to the principles of accessible design (work surfaces and chairs that can be adjusted for height and angle, knee wells that allow for wheelchairs, etc.) will be selected.
Is it necessary to replace the bleachers?
The outdoor bleachers at both North High and South High were installed in 1992 and are 25 years old. They are inspected annually, but they are expensive to repair and maintain. These bleachers are compliant with 1991 ADA code, but they do not meet current (2010) standards.
Modern bleachers have safety features such as aisle railings and include dedicated spaces for wheelchairs. Currently:
- There is no ADA ramp at North High on either the home or visitor-side bleachers. Students and guests with mobility issues are limited to sitting on the track around the field to view sporting events and graduation.
- There is an ADA ramp available at South High’s home bleachers; however, there is no dedicated space for wheelchairs in the stands. There is no ADA ramp on South High’s visitor bleachers.
New bleachers will include storage and space underneath for athletic teams to use as squad rooms. Currently, teams at both schools use garages as their squad rooms. This is not ideal since they are filled with tools, chemicals, fuel and mechanical devices. The squad rooms will also help trainers to respond quickly in emergency situations.
New bleachers will increase seating in the home side of both schools by at least 1,000 additional seats.
How many classrooms do not currently have air conditioning?
Approximately one-third of classrooms at both North High and South High do not currently have air conditioning. During warm weather, conditions are not conducive to learning. Studies show that students perform worse in extreme temperatures; see one study here.
District 99 rented temporary air conditioning units for the first time in 2017. These are not an effective long-term solution. Portable units are noisy, do not provide optimal climate control, and are more expensive to operate than a permanent solution.
During the 2011 HVAC renovations at each school, preparations were made so that air conditioning would be easier to install as part of the MFP.
What is the timeline to install air conditioning?
If the March 2018 ballot measure is approved by voters, air conditioning will be installed in Summer 2018, before classes begin on August 17, 2018.
How will the MFP impact individual classrooms?
Learning today is more collaborative, project-based and involves technology. The MFP will allow us to begin creating and designing an environment that supports this evolution. Adding flexible, modern furnishings will allow students to move easily throughout the classroom and configure a variety of learning settings (i.e., either working independently or in groups). Ample access to technology and power sources will further support academics and projects.
What improvements are being proposed for the science classrooms at North High?
Currently at North High, not every science lab is equipped with water, gas and proper ventilation at each station. The configuration of classrooms limits the science classes that can be taught in certain spaces, which impacts and limits scheduling opportunities for students. The MFP will allow us to modernize and build an environment that supports STEM activities.
What improvements are being proposed for the visual arts labs at both schools?
Existing facilities are outdated and equipment is failing. The spaces do not provide enough current technologies, such as 3D printers. The spaces have not been kept current with advances in the field. The MFP will allow us to mirror the resources that are found in today’s workplace setting. Spaces will be equipped with modern technology to support creativity, and provide a variety of workstations, ample power, and ventilation.
What improvements are being proposed for the culinary labs at both schools?
Existing facilities are from the era of “home economics” and do not foster the skills students need to be prepared for employment in the culinary arts. Updated layouts, flooring, appliances, and cooking equipment will mirror what is found in professional kitchens and other area high schools. New labs will also provide for proper culinary arts methods, food storage and sanitation practices.
What is a Learning Commons?
A Learning Commons is a functional, fully accessible, flexible educational space that will be used by students and staff before, during and after the school day. It will be equipped with modular furniture that can be reconfigured throughout the day, so that students can socialize and work collaboratively, study individually and in small groups.
The Learning Commons will serve as the building’s educational “Main Street.” Key resources will surround this centrally located space to increase student access to services and resources. The offices of the college and career counselors, psychologists, counselors, technology support personnel and deans will be connected to this new space. Students will also have easy access to the cafeteria, library and bookstore.
The design promotes student independence, autonomy, and self-advocacy; the entrances to offices will be visible and accessible to students throughout the day. Meeting spaces will continue to be private to protect student confidentiality.
How will the Learning Commons be used?
Students will have access to the Learning Commons during the day for small-group learning and activities for multiple classes. It will also provide overflow space for the libraries and resource centers. Students are routinely turned away from these areas currently because they are at capacity.
Larger groups will be able to use the space for presentations and club meetings. The Learning Commons will also serve as a lobby for performances and events in the auditorium as well as indoor athletic and other events. Community groups will have the opportunity to rent and use the space during off-hours.
Students will have the option to use the Learning Commons during study hall time. They will have access to the student services that surround the space, as well as benefit from the natural lighting. Studies show that students with limited classroom daylight were outperformed by those with the most natural light by 20% in math and 26% on reading tests. In addition, increasing daylight has been shown to reduce absenteeism and improve test scores.
Flexible spaces like these are being incorporated into high schools and colleges locally and nationally because they support the academic and social-emotional needs of students today.
How will the Learning Commons be supervised?
A Learning Commons space will provide staff with clear sight lines from which to monitor students. Currently, staff must supervise students who gather to study and socialize in intersecting hallways. In addition, there will be staffed offices adjacent to the Learning Commons and teachers and support staff will be present.
Where will the Learning Commons be built?
The Learning Commons will be created by enclosing interior courtyards located in the center of each school. The courtyards are seldomly used by students.
Converting the North High courtyard and a portion of the South High courtyard (which is twice the size of North High’s courtyard) to indoor space will bring more natural light into the buildings and add space without increasing the footprint of the buildings.
Is there a sample schedule for the Learning Commons?
The Learning Commons will serve as the school’s central hub. It will be supervised and available to students before, during and after school. Here is a sample schedule of what a typical day will look like:
6:30 a.m.–8 a.m. (Student Arrival)
- Student/staff small group meetings or group project work
- Individual study
- Device charging
8 a.m.–3:20 p.m. (School Hours)
- Class use for presentations and group activities
- Library overflow; currently students are routinely turned away from the libraries because they are at capacity.
- Cafeteria overflow
- Supervised study hall
- Meeting space for students and teachers
- Full access to resources throughout the day. The offices of the college and career counselors, psychologists, counselors, technology support personnel and deans will be connected to this new space. Students will also have easy access to the cafeteria, library and bookstore.
3:20 p.m.–9 p.m. (After School Activities)
- Group projects
- Club meetings
- Faculty meetings
- Parent meetings
- Study space for students with late activities (drama, sports, etc.)
- Nights and Weekends
- Community access
- Lobby/gathering space for auditoriums and athletics
- Student meetings and activities
Will the number of classrooms be reduced when the Learning Commons is added?
No. Some classrooms will be relocated to accommodate the Learning Commons, but the total number of classrooms will stay the same.
What will happen to the the existing courtyards?
The Learning Commons at North High will be created by fully enclosing the interior courtyard. Elements from the garden, including a student memorial, will be carefully moved to a prominent place near the Memorial Peace Garden adjacent to Forest Street.
At South High, the Learning Commons will be created by partially enclosing the interior courtyard. The South High courtyard is twice the size of North High’s courtyard. Enclosing a portion of the courtyard will accomplish the goal to surround students with resources they need throughout the day, at a lower cost than fully enclosing the courtyard.
How will a new gymnasium at North High benefit students?
A new and larger gymnasium at North High will benefit all District 99 students and the community. More space will be available for physical education classes and team practices. Since 2000, participation in athletics and the number of programs (i.e., the D99 Special Olympics basketball teams) have grown. Practices run 5 a.m. to 9 p.m.; some teams must practice early in the morning and late in the evening due to the lack of space. The number of students who may participate in certain sports and the number of levels offered in various programs also are limited due to space constraints. A new gymnasium would offer expanded opportunities for participation and programming.
In addition, we have more partnerships with affiliated elementary school districts and park districts, and a growing number of younger people in the community use District 99’s spaces regularly. Adding space will help support this need.
The new gymnasium will include a balcony, which will accommodate gymnastics equipment and practices. The gymnasium will also be available for community use.
What improvements are being proposed for South High’s auditorium?
The plan includes a new and expanded auditorium at South High.There are 2,700 students at South High; the auditorium seats 856 students. There is even less seating when the stage is expanded to accommodate concerts and plays. As a result, performances are often held in the gymnasium, which limits programming. When South High opened in 1964, it was intended to house grades 9 and 10 only. When it was converted to a traditional 9-12 school, the auditorium was not expanded. The new auditorium will seat 1,200 students and will significantly increase versatility for scheduling. The new auditorium also will make the space equitable to North High’s auditorium, which also seats 1,200 students.
The auditorium will also include modern acoustics, lighting and production equipment, making it comparable to North High’s auditorium and those at other comprehensive high schools in our area.
What improvements are being proposed for North High’s kitchen and cafeteria?
The North High kitchen was last renovated in 1958. The cafeteria is undersized for the current population, making it difficult for students to select and purchase food in a timely manner during their 25-minute lunch period. Food equipment is outdated and space is limited. The plan calls for expanding and updating the kitchen, and dedicating more space to expedite serving lines. A lift for people with disabilities, which is located in the middle of the two-level space, will be replaced with a ramp to increase access and inclusivity.
Why is the district pursuing a bond proposal now?
Debt that is expiring in 2019 provides the opportunity to make major improvements to our buildings with the least incremental impact to taxpayers. The debt that a taxpayer is currently paying to support the 1998 bonds ($132 for a house with an average market value of $300,000) would continue, and be increased by an additional $65 per year to support the Master Facility Plan.
The district hosted an informational "Finance Night" on March 7, 2018 for the community to learn more about the district's financial postiion. Click here to see the slides reveiwed at the meeting.
How much will my taxes increase if the project is approved?
The District 99 portion of a property tax bill for a house with an average market value of $300,000 will increase by $65 annually, according to estimates provided by Raymond James & Associates, an outside financial firm. (District 99 is just one of the local entities that collects property taxes, so an overall tax bill will vary.)
How much will taxes decrease if the District does not issue any new bonds?
The District 99 portion of a property tax bill for a house with an average market value of $300,000 will decrease by $132 annually if the existing bonds are retired and no new bonds are issued, according to estimates provided by Raymond James & Associates, an outside financial firm. (District 99 is just one of the local entities that collects property taxes, so an overall tax bill will vary.)
Is it possible to do this work without raising taxes?
Unfortunately, it is not possible to fund these large-scale improvements to our schools with no tax increase. We cannot use operating funds for the MFP without impacting educational programs.
When was the last time District 99 passed a bond referendum?
Voters approved a $49.5 million expansion and renovation plan for both schools in 1998, 20 years ago. The plan added new classrooms, some science labs, technology resource labs, fine arts music wing, and field houses. The bonds that were issued will expire this year. See a history of District 99 Facility Referenda from 1950 to the present here.
Didn't District 99 receive a lot of money from selling property in Woodridge? Where did that money go?
In 2010, District 99 received $14.8 million in proceeds from the disposition of property in Woodridge. The property was intended to be the site for a third high school; however, building a third high school was not supported by voters in a 1997 referendum.
In response, and to expand and make more efficient use of space at North High and South High, both of which are challenged due to limited acreage, the District 99 Board of Education approved the idea of making facility improvements in 1999. Of particular interest was installing synthetic turf, so that students at North High would not need to cross Main Street for physical education and so softball and soccer teams could be on-campus instead of being bused off-campus for daily practices. The district conducted studies of both schools, including a field study in 2004, a stadium feasibility study in 2009 and a Master Site Plan (MSP) study in 2009. The Board of Education approved the MSP in January 2011.
The proceeds from the Woodridge property were applied to the highest priority ("Tier 1") improvements identified in the MSP. (See improvements made to North High in 2011. See improvements made to South High in 2011.) Other MSP projects ("Tier 2") were estimated to be $12 million; these projects will be funded if the March 2018 referendum is approved by the community.
For details about the timeline, benefits and finances of the MSP, please see the January 2011 presentation here.
Are the expenditures similar at both schools?
Yes. The project costs for renovation and new construction are similar, even though the facility needs are not identical. The completion of the MFP projects will result in greater equity between the two buildings. The cafeteria and gymnasium projects at North High and the synthetic field and auditorium projects at South High will result in the schools having similar academic, athletic, and arts spaces when construction is completed.
Why can’t the district “save up” and then make these improvements?
To keep both North High and South High running efficiently, we invest up to $2 million per year for facility maintenance and repairs. We maintain a comprehensive list of our most pressing needs and address them annually. For detailed reports, please click here.
The MFP represents a major undertaking and upgrade to our facilities. Issuing bonds is a common and responsible way to fund the MFP. This aligns the timeline of paying for the project with the benefits that result from the updated facilities.
What is the cost of the bond issuance for the plan?
The cost of the MFP is $136.6 million. The expected total cost of bonds and interest over the life of the loan is $201 million. An example of a proposed financing schedule may be found here.
What is the maximum amount that District 99 could borrow?
District 99’s legal bond principal issuance maximum limit is $295 million. The $136.6 million reflects 46% of our borrowing capacity.
How will we know that funds will go toward the school improvements listed?
Legally, the funds received from the bond may only be used for items listed on the ballot. Like all of District 99’s financial information, all spending from the proposed bond measure will be publicly disclosed and transparent. Also, we will continue to host community information meetings to provide updates on the progress of the improvements.
What if the projects cost more than projected?
Contingencies have been built into the plan for unforeseen costs that may arise during construction. If project costs were to extend beyond the estimated amounts, we would eliminate or reduce the project scope on a priority basis; however, we are confident that all of the projects will be completed if the community supports the bond proposal on March 20, 2018.
What is the cost of each individual project of the MFP?
The district's architectural firm Wight & Company developed the projected Master Facility Plan construction cost of $136.6 million. It is based on total square-footage (SF) of renovated and new construction spaces, and not by individual project. (Note that to air-conditioning educational spaces at both schools will cost a total of $6-7 million.) The estimate is based on 150,000 SF of renovation and 78,000 SF of new additions at North High, and 87,000 SF of renovation and 68,000 SF of new additions at South High. Projects will be phased in and completed over a five-year time period; in addition, projects will be bundled together, according to how the spaces are interconnected.
The estimated cost per SF for new construction ranges from $385-$450/SF, which includes fees, contingencies and a modest amount of inflation. Technically challenging and difficult to reach spaces (such as the South High auditorium and the Learning Commons at both schools) are expected to range between $550-$600/SF, which includes demolition, asbestos removal, fees and contingencies.The cost per SF for renovating other spaces will vary depending on the spaces involved. This work ranges from $100/SF (such as hallway finish upgrades) to $500/SF (including major food service improvements at North High), with fees and contingencies included. Due to the fact that parts of this project will be completed over the course of several years, which makes costs and emerging needs more unpredictable, Wight included a contingency of 10-12% for each phase of work. In addition, North High's projects will trend on the higher end of the contingency range due to the age of and access issues at the school.
When will construction begin? How long will the project take?
The work will be completed in phases, and every effort will be made to ensure that demolition and heavy construction take place during the summer months when students are out of the buildings.
If the March 2018 referendum is approved by the community, work will begin immediately to design and construct secured entrances. The air-locked entrances, which will allow us to screen visitors before gaining access to our buildings, will need to be architecturally designed, will impact other areas of the building, and cannot be financed without the passage of the referendum. In addition, work will begin to install air-conditioning in all classrooms that are not currently air-conditioned. This portion of the MFP will be completed by the start of the 2018-19 school year.
We estimate that the entire project will take five years and be completed by 2023. A detailed timeline and progress reports will be developed and shared online when the project is approved.
How will you ensure the safety and minimize disruptions to students, staff, and neighbors?
District 99 is committed to ensuring the safety of students, staff, visitors, and neighbors during construction. Noise and air quality will be monitored throughout the project. All workers on site will be required to submit to criminal background check and will remain within the construction area during school hours. Additional details will be provided as construction plans are developed.
What will be the bidding process for construction projects?
District 99 follows Illinois School Code and detailed policies for purchasing business practices. Bidders for the construction projects are subject to specific qualifications. District 99 issues requests for proposals, and must by law award the bids to the lowest responsible bidder. Please see our website regarding this process here.
How will "green" technology and energy efficiency be incorporated into the construction?
District 99 is committed to sustainability and green building standards. Replacing outdated and inefficient heating and cooling systems has already reduced energy costs. Read more about our energy conservation program here.
District 99 pursues grants to defray the cost of projects whenever there is an opportunity to do so. For example, we recently received $180,000 in grant reimbursement for our boiler projects.
LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) guidelines will be considered during design and construction. These practices will ensure that the buildings are energy and water efficient, which may reduce future operating costs.
There is a significant upfront cost for solar panels, and they are not included in the MFP. District 99 is actively investigating grant funding to install solar panels to capture energy savings, this would result in a standalone project in the future.
What will be done to improve the aesthetics at South High?
The plan includes relocating the main entrance of South High and making it a prominent focal point of the building, allowing guests to easily identify the secured main entrance. During the design phase, a variety of options to improve aesthetics will be considered, such as incorporating stone alongside the brick on the facade, and including benches, landscaping and additional lighting. District 99 will solicit community input during the design phase.
Who will get to vote on this funding proposal?
Every registered voter in District 99 will be eligible to vote on the bond measure on Tuesday, March 20, 2018.
Are District 99 facilities open to the public?
Yes. The outdoor tracks at both schools are open for public use. In addition, after accommodating school programs and meeting contractual responsibilities with the Downers Grove Park District, our other facilities are available to rent. Please read more about facility rentals on our website here.
What are the district’s enrollment projections?
District 99 commissioned a demographic study in December of 2016; to read the report, please go to this link. The study found that student enrollment will trend slightly up over the next decade, but generally remain within a 100-student variance of current enrollment.
The Master Facility Plan is not needed nor designed to respond to changes in enrollment; rather, its goal is to make our facilities safer and more accessible, modernize our facilities for 21st century learning, close inequities between the two schools, and help us better meet the needs of our students.
What happens if the referendum fails?
If the community does not support the MFP on the March 20, 2018 ballot, District 99 will be unable to move forward with the projects, including installing air-conditioning in classrooms by August 17, 2018. The District 99 Board of Education will then need to discuss and consider how to move forward with the MFP and address the identified facility needs.