New Trier improvements could cost $400M

WINNETKA, Ill. New Trier's Winnetka campus was built over a period of decades, growing with the community. It is now a hodgepodge of buildings ranging in age from 90 to 34 years old.

"Our oldest section was built in 1912. And we have our classroom sections where most of the classrooms were built in 1934 or 1957," said Supt. Linda Yonke, New Trier Township High School.

That means small classrooms and outdated facilities that don't comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act. A 60-member committee studied the best options for upgrading the building and narrowed down the choices to either renovating and replacing portions of the building or constructing a new campus north of the existing site.

"It could use some upgrades and stuff, but I don't feel like it needs to be completely redone," said Sarah Specht, student.

"I don't think they need to knock the whole thing down and start from scratch, but I think there are definitely things that could be repaired," said Cole Scandaglia, student.

Any improvements will be costly. Estimates range from $250 million to $400 million, making it one of the most expensive projects in the Chicago area. Yonke says those are preliminary figures which also take into account inflation and any unforeseen costs.

"It's a big campus, it's 860,000 square feet. We're also looking at our Northfield campus where the freshman go. That's about 450,000 square feet, so we have over a million square feet that we're looking at," said Yonke.

Another option that's considerably less expensive at $95 million is called "status quo," or paying for maintenance and selective repairs.

Although Chicago Public Schools will add at least three new high school in the next few years, many buildings are more than 100 years old, and officials also weigh the new construction versus the maintenance scenario. It boils down to which makes better financial sense.

"Where you do have buildings that are in badly need of major renovations, you have to seriously consider whether or not it is more cost effective to just tear down and build new," said Heather Obora, CPS.

New Trier's superintendent says the next step is to engage the community in deciding the best way to improve the school. It's a decision that could ultimately be decided by a referendum.

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