On February 2, residents of New Trier Township will vote on a referendum to issue bonds to pay for a $174 million renovation and expansion of the New Trier High School East facility in Winnetka.
Early voting in the primary began on January 11.
The issue is the focus of political and education discussions in Wilmette, Winnetka, Kenilworth and Glencoe, the North Shore communities served by the high school with a national reputation for excellence.
The bonds would finance a project that involves replacing the oldest buildings on the Winnetka Campus—some dating back to 1912—with efficient structures designed for current and future classroom innovations.
“We have not built a standard classroom here since 1957,” says Linda L. Yonke, New Trier Superintendent. “We are not meeting our needs in the curricular and extra-curricular areas.”
The proposed multi-faceted plan calls for demolition of three buildings on the west side of the campus:
- The Cafeteria built in 1912
- The Music and Performing Arts Building circa 1950
- The Tech Arts building constructed in 1931
And on the east side of the campus demolition of:
- The 81 year-old Gates Gym
- The Boiler Plant
New construction on the West side of the campus will include modern classrooms for science, math, English, social studies, business, modern and classical languages as well as space for the performing arts programs.
The East side of the campus will be the site of a new main gym, a new field house and 16 new classrooms.
A relatively steady student population of 4,000 a-year for the next 20 years is factored into the plan which also calls for a 5% increase in physical footprint of the campus over its current size. The Northfield campus would remain dedicated to freshman classes.
Accessibility throughout the entire school will be improved for students, visitors and staff with physical disabilities.
When completed there will be both improved parking and better traffic flow around the often-congested campus and bordering neighborhoods, improved accessibility. Underground parking for staff and faculty is also included in the proposed plan.
School officials and consultants estimate that without the project, the district will spend an estimated $85 million in repairs and infrastructure replacement over the next 20 years.
Superintendent Yonke says that the campus is behind the dramatic technological changes that have taken place in education in recent years and the proposed project will position the district to be ready for changes that may come in the future.
“The current building has 2,500 square feet (dedicated to) technology, the new one would have 18,500 square feet for computer labs and radio and television production,” she says.
Assuming voters approved the referendum, school officials believe they may qualify for some federal stimulus funding under the Build America program and be able to take advantage of the building downturn to contract for new construction at 2007 prices.
School officials estimate the project would add a maximum of up to $295 a year on a $10,000 Cook County annual property tax bill starting in 2011 and lasting for the next 20 years.
“It is a time of both difficulty and a time of opportunity,” says Yonke.
Having just returned from a tour of New Trier East High School, I saw the deteriorating state of the facility with my own two eyes. The facility’s antiquated and poor condition, along with the need to raise it to 21st century technological standards, compels a “yes” vote on the referendum. Before even considering a “no” vote, you must first see the facility with your own eyes (either through a tour or through the New Trier website videos). I know you will feel the need to vote “yes” after seeing New Trier for yourself. (See http://www.newtrier.k12.il.us/facilitiesinitiative.aspx).
For me, some of the most compelling reasons to vote “yes” include: there are no working restrooms in one of the buildings, the multitude of stairs and labyrinth of corridors prevent disabled students from getting around, the cafeteria is too small to seat all students during lunch periods so many must stand or sit in hallways, and the buildings destined for replacement are from 1912, 1925, 1928, 1931 and 1950 – designed in another era and reeking of old age and inefficiencies.
There is nothing excessive about the present plan. Stop-gaps, which have been relied upon to date, won’t work forever. New Trier is the cornerstone of the North Shore, we must preserve it for the children of our community and for our own future as residents. Surely, we have reaped the benefits of the investment residents made 50-80 years ago when they built these “state of the art” buildings. Let’s position the community for the next 50 years.
Right now, construction costs are low and the Recovery Act allows for reduced bond costs – in short, conditions are as favorable as ever. The referendum will cost the average tax payer about $250 per year (based on an average tax bill of $10,500). That comes to $21 per month. This small investment will reap huge rewards for our community by ensuring our high school remains top notch and that it continues to produce highly educated and qualified students. This, in turn, will secure the North Shore as a desired place to live and protect our property values. Again, for so many reasons, I urge you to vote “yes.”
And, in case you are wondering, I have no affiliation with New Trier whatsoever. I had never stepped foot in the building before today. In fact, I used “Mapquest” to get there. We recently moved to this community to give our children a better life and top notch education. At the elementary school level, we couldn’t be happier. We look forward to future improvements at New Trier.
— Lisa Finks
Read more comments in our November 2009 article.