It’s officially the end of an era at New Trier High School.
The district’s board of education unanimously approved a $75-million project on Tuesday, Feb. 16, that will demolish the school’s historic Gates Gymnasium and reimagine the east side of the high school’s campus.
The OK’d plans call for the construction of a new, three-story athletics and kinetic wellness facility that will address what officials are calling a “glaringly evident need” resulting from “underinvestment over many years.”
The project includes a new competition gym, six-lane indoor track, artificial turf field, cardio and weight-training spaces, multiple auxiliary gyms, and 12 new academic learning spaces, eight of which will be classrooms.
Construction on the project is slated to begin in December of this year with a target completion date of August 2023.
Improvements at the school will update several outdated facilities at the campus such as its “out-of-date gyms and classrooms” and will bring New Trier’s spaces up to the level of its peer schools in the area, officials said.
Board members expressed profound support for the project during the meeting and stated their belief that now is the optimal time to move forward.
“It’s our job (as a board) to provide facilities that are safe and respectful and what we have right now is really not safe and I don’t feel that they’re respectful,” board member Carol Ducommun said. “(This project) supports our educational goals. … We’ve heard that all students will be better off from these facilities.”
Ducommun also talked about the good timing.
“It makes prudent use of our taxpayer dollars that we’ve been saving for just this kind of opportunity. I think it’s the right time,” she said.” We’ve got the team intact from the west side campus project, we’ve got low interest rates and it just supports the priorities for all of our students. I think after 100 years, it’s the right time.”
District officials reaffirmed the $75.2-million projected cost of the project while assuring community members it will not require a referendum.
As previously identified at prior meetings and reported by The Record, three sources of funding will be used to finance the project: alternative revenue bonds, the district’s debt service extension base and its fund balance.
The project will be the district’s largest endeavor since its renovation and expansion of the west side of the Winnetka campus that cost more than $100 million.
That expenditure, which required a 2014 referendum, involved demolishing three of the school’s oldest buildings and replacing them with a 300,000-square-foot building. A first phase of the project was completed at the start of the 2016-17 school year, while the second was finished prior to the 17-18 year.
Officials believe the district is in a better position with the east side project than it was when it started work on the west side of the Winnetka campus.
“I actually think we’re in possibly a better position … because we learned a whole lot,” board Vice President Marc Glucksman said. “We have the added knowledge … we have the same team, and we’re also living within our means. We’re not asking for a referendum and financially this probably is the best time to do this.
“We also engaged all of our stakeholders multiple times and this is a very very refined project.”
Administrators have been reviewing improvements to century-old student athletic facilities since August 2019, when the board approved the framework for a 15-year facilities plan.
Board President Cathleen Albrecht said the project has changed a lot over that span, but “that it only got better.”
She added the financial outlook also changed because of the currently low attractive interest rates that will allow the district to save $8 million in financing costs for the project.
“The time is right, it’s the right project, and it’s going to finally unite our campus,” she said. “… Let’s get this campus continuous and modern and flexible for our students.”
Jim Burnside, head girls soccer coach and assistant athletic director, addressed the board and said the current facility has been a “gracious host” but he’s “excited and strongly believes that this is the time to look forward.”
“This project will create the necessary environment to allow us to foster and grow our great culture while offering a breath of opportunities to all our students,” he said.
In addition to deciding to move forward with the project, board members approved a notice of intent to issue the alternative revenue bonds and $19.5 million in working cash bonds during the meeting.
Following that approval, $50 million of alternative revenue bonds will be sold in April of 2021 to finance the first phase of construction for the project.
The board also approved contracts with Wight and Co. for architectural services and with Pepper Construction for construction management services.
Officials will reportedly immediately begin the design development phase with the hopes of finishing that portion of the project by this summer.
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Martin Carlino is a co-founder and the senior editor who assigns and edits The Record stories, while also bylining articles every week. Martin is an experienced and award-winning education reporter who was the editor of The Northbrook Tower.