New Trier's Gates Gymnasium up for an overhaul

Updated 12/10/2020 3:21 AM

Ancient buildings can be awesome to behold and contain much history. They also can become outmoded and not worth the money to maintain.

That's what the New Trier Township High School District 203 Board of Education Finance Committee dealt with at its meeting Monday night.


As part of the district's 15-year Facility Framework plan, which began this summer with projects at both the main Winnetka and freshman-level Northfield campuses, the Finance Committee delved into an "East Side Athletic and Academic Study."

The study was launched in November 2019 and has been analyzed over the past year.

Namely, how to handle, and finance, the renovation and/or replacement of the Winnetka campus' 1928 Gates Gymnasium and 1925 Boiler Plant, while maintaining the historical integrity of the campus.

The gym needs a major upgrade to handle the needs of approximately 3,000 students, sophomores through seniors. The latter contains 1970s-era steam boilers, which as District 203 associate superintendent Chris Johnson noted "have largely been decommissioned."

The project is not a done deal, and will be refined through presentations and discussions before the larger board in December and January and a return to the finance committee -- next meeting, Jan. 11, 2021, -- but will not require a referendum and will be funded by means taxpayers already provide annually.

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Board members on Monday speculated on things such as a "one-time opportunity" to replace and renovate the Gates Gymnasium building by, in one scenario, including a six-lane track instead of a four-lane track. All scenarios under consideration would expand the building itself and provide more room for seating, classrooms and the weight room.

"It makes sense," a board member said.

But finance is their game. The committee then laid out options for financing the project.

Johnson led a presentation of options for a five-year district financial plan within the larger Facility Framework plan. It included options for taking on $3.8 million in annual debt service paid by the district's existing tax levy, with no reserve usage for the project, and another option for $2.7 million debt service and $15 million from the reserve.

"The goal will be to develop what we think our consensus recommendation is to the board in January," Johnson said.

To finance the entire East Side Capital Plan, options included a preliminary total project size of $75 million with $65.5 million of debt certificates or alternate bonds, which would mature, respectively, in 20 years or 25 years. The second set of options uses $15 million of fund balance and $50.5 million in debt certificates and alternate bonds.

The committee discussed all this within an uncertain environment framed by the defeat of the so-called "Fair Tax" proposal in the November General Election, a possible shift of pension responsibility to the district, low Consumer Price Index that affects school funding and a property tax freeze.


The thought was to act rather than to wait for what may or may not come out of Springfield.

"I've always had the philosophy that the taxpayers put us in place to kind of preserve and enhance the experience at New Trier, be fiscally responsible within the confines of what we know and planning for the unknown," said board member Greg Robitaille.

"I'm not sure that anyone expects us to not do anything for fear of what might happen sometime down the road."

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