H-F board’s finance committee holds off on first step for performing arts additions

With the price tag for major renovations and building additions at Homewood-Flossmoor High School coming in higher than expected, the school board’s finance committee held off on taking the first step on the project.
 
At its meeting Tuesday, committee members Jody Scariano, Tim Wenckus and Steve Anderson put off directing DLA Architects to begin the architectural and engineering work and agreed to meet again May 14 to review costs.
 
“You’ve done exactly what we’ve asked,” Anderson told Edward Wright of DLA. After meeting with staff and the community the plan is “what they want from this project and it’s a lot more than we thought three months ago, and I think that reality gives me pause.” 

Anderson said he wasn't ready to move forward on the plan as presented.
 
Wenckus raised concerns on how H-F’s budget could be handicapped by future Illinois legislative decisions that could push teacher pension costs onto local districts — H-F would have to pay $1.7 million annually — and the often-discussed two-year property tax freeze that could reduce H-F income by $800,000 each year if imposed by the state. And, he pointed out, H-F is negotiating a new contract with the faculty union.
 
Superintendent Von Mansfield assured the committee that if those state costs were forced onto the district, the budget would be able to absorb them. He said the school board will be deciding on a new salary package for staff soon.
 
The board has seen various cost estimates for the music, visual arts and performing arts (MVP) program work that will include a new black box theater built north of the Mall Auditorium, a new wing for the music department as an addition on the south end of the auditorium and remodeed space for the fine arts program. The latest estimates for the project are between $12.5 and $14 million.
 
The project can be done in pieces. Wright gave the committee a proposal that included three bids — one for the performing arts center’s black box theater expected to cost between $3 and $3.5 million; one for the band, choral and orchestra space expected to cost between $6.25 and $6.75 million; and one that would combine both of those projects estimated at between $9.25 and $10.25 million.
 
Because the fine arts department would occupy space now housing the music programs, the remodeling work would happen after the space was vacated. The $3.25 to $3.75 million is included in the overall cost, but not in this bid cycle. 

Several months ago, the board was looking at the projections of between $7 and $8 million, but meetings with faculty, students and community members led to a project redesign that would give all three programs the space they need.
 
The board has $8.8 million in capital reserves that can fund the MVP program work.
 
Wright suggested the board move forward with the designs. He hoped to have the specifications available for bidding in September with the plan to have the structure of the black box theater under roof by winter enabling crews to work indoors during inclement weather.
 
But Anderson said that agreeing to design work would tell the community that the board is committed to something that it may put on hold or maybe never begin.
 
Mansfield urged the board to consider undertaking Phase 1, the black box theater. It is the least expensive piece and it is essential to programming.
 
“The performing arts space is something that is under budget and it is presented not as a wish but a need,” he said, calling it “practical and not over spending.”
 
The Mall Auditorium stage is used constantly, the superintendent said. Adding a black box theater would eliminate the scheduling logjam, and it could be used by the drama and theater programs as well as the music department.
 
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