A closer look at the proposed Lester project

lesterThe proposed Lester School addition may soon become a reality. The Board of Education will be asked to take action this month to award construction bids and approve a bond sale to fund the project. If approved, construction on the $2.3 million project would begin this spring, with completion by the start of the 2018-19 school year.

The proposed addition would address Lester’s space issues, adding three classrooms, bathrooms and a flexible resource space.

History of the proposed Lester project:

District 58 has thoughtfully examined possible solutions for Lester’s space needs over the past several years. In 2012, the Board enlisted Wight & Company, the District’s architect, to complete a comprehensive districtwide facilities review, which identified space constraints at Lester School. The District also contracted with a demographer to study enrollment patterns.

Since then, Lester experienced an increased need for student enrichment, intervention and special education services, and District 58 expanded its kindergarten enrichment program districtwide. These new needs required instructional space that Lester lacked. In 2016, the District implemented a kindergarten enrollment plan, which included transferring some Lester kindergarten students to another District school.

In 2016, District 58 again hired a demographer to project future enrollment at each District 58 school. The demographer report found that Lester’s enrollment would likely remain steady for several years, with three full sections at each grade level.

In February 2017, District administrators shared with the Board a variety of solutions to Lester’s space issues, including building an addition, redistricting, and moving kindergarten or sixth grade to another school, among others. The District and Board carefully reviewed and considered each idea and recommended pursuing the addition.

Wight & Company conducted a Lester feasibility study and presented the Board with five possible addition scenarios at the Board’s April 2017 meeting. At the June 2017 meeting, the Board directed District administrators to explore a $2.2-$2.5 million addition option that would add three classrooms and new bathrooms to the building’s east side. In November 2017, the Board approved a resolution to bid the Lester addition and appoint a financial advisor to help the District issue bonds to fund it.

Assistant Superintendent for Business/Chief School Business Official David Bein reported that current debt payments extend through levy year 2024, and any new bond issues might require restructuring existing debt. Bein added that any funds borrowed would not contribute a deficit to the District’s operating budget, as it would be levied through the District’s debt service.

The District’s financial advisor, Tammy Beckwith Schallmo from PMA Securities, presented a financing discussion to the Board during its December 2017 meeting. PMA Securities recommended the District issue bonds via a competitive sale.

Also in December, a community meeting was held to inform Lester neighborhood residents about the proposed school addition and to receive feedback.

The Board held a public hearing during its January meeting to receive input on the proposed bond sale. Four community members shared feedback. Three individuals objected to the proposed bond sale, citing concerns regarding the District’s finances and whether the District sufficiently explored alternative options. One individual advocated support for the measure.

Meanwhile, the Village of Downers Grove Council voted in January to rezone Lester’s residential property, allowing construction to move forward.

What’s next?

The District conducted public bidding for the Lester addition in January and will present the results, as well as a final financing recommendation, to the Board during the regular Feb. 12 Board meeting. The Board is expected to take action on the bids and on the proposed bond sale. If the Board approves both actions, the District will likely receive the bond sale proceeds by the end of February, allowing Lester construction to commence in early spring.

The District will post Lester project updates to this page and in the Board Briefs.