Wes Baumann’s open letter to New Trier community members
A plan has been announced for a three to four year renovation at New Trier’s Winnetka campus. Calling for the demolition of certain aged buildings and the subsequent replacement of those facilities, the project is aiming for completion in August of 2012, and is expected to cost taxpayers between 180 and 200 million dollars. Should a ballot referendum be approved next month, the decision would then rest in the hands of township voters.
In response to this proposal, former New Trier principal and long-time community member Wes Baumann has penned an open letter to New Trier community members. (see below) Baumann lists the improvements that have already been made to New Trier East; his view is that the renovations under discussion are what those in favor would want “under ideal conditions, i.e. no financial restraints,” and that the construction project is not truly one of need.
During my four years at New Trier, I came to respect Mr. Baumann as a man of integrity and sound judgment, as a valuable educator and community member. 200 million dollars will always be a tidy sum, but during difficult economic times around the country and the world, it is particularly important that we as world citizens take a hard look at the choices we are making with money.
For Principal Timothy Dohrer’s reasons for supporting the renovation project, click here. More to come on this story throughout the week.
Open Letter to the Residents of New Trier Township
By now you should have received a four-page brochure from New Trier High School presenting their plans for replacing a significant portion of the Winnetka Campus. This letter is to give you one person’s perspective, that of a retired New Trier administrator and 28-year resident of the township, of the current plans being proposed by the New Trier Superintendent and Board of Education for major facility work on the Winnetka Campus. I will preface my remarks with the fact that I could support a much more modest plan to accommodate the needs of the district. However, the extent of the current proposal far exceeds the needs and is not a wise use of the taxpayers’ resources.
I spent 32 years working at NT – 23 years as an administrator and most of those dealing with facility utilization. When I retired in 2002 as Principal there were few who knew the building any better than I, and they were on the Physical Plant staff. I have a serious problem with the administration describing the Winnetka Campus as old, out-of-date, and nonfunctional in so many aspects.
It may be old but it is certainly still very functional and has been kept up-to-date.
Over the last 15 to 20 years New Trier has done much to upgrade the Winnetka facilities:
n As recently as four years ago, all new PE and athletic locker rooms replaced the old ones for a cost of over $6 million, and these are schedule for demolition in the current plans.
n The library underwent a major gutting and renovation several years ago for over $2 million, which the administration now wants to abandon and have rebuilt as part of the new facilities project.
n Between $300,000 and $400,000 was spent on each of 11 science labs providing all new lab fixtures that are compatible for teaching any of the sciences — all with complete computer accessibility; additionally 3 new science labs were added.
n A new HVAC system has been installed that provides air conditioning to most of the building.
n Almost all of the windows have been replaced with new windows that have double pane glazing.
n The post-high school-counseling suite has been totally renovated.
n A new state of the art Health Center has been added.
n Additionally, the building now has wireless Internet accessibility.
I have conducted many tours of the campus for alumni who were here for reunions, classes dating back from the late 30s to the mid 70s. They have all remarked what great shape the building is in. Alums living in other parts of the country with kids or grandkids in high school have often expressed envy about NT’s facilities wishing as much for their children or grandchildren.
The school board is now moving toward spending around $180-$200 million to tear down most of the west side of the building (the student cafeteria, the Tech Arts building, and the Music building); and on the east side of the building the Gates gymnasium and the boiler plant would also be demolished. The replacements — a three-story structure that will cover almost two-thirds of residential Woodland Avenue on the west side and a larger competition gym and a massive new field house will be built on the east side. The project will decrease campus green space and substantially increase the amount of impervious surface in a landlocked, residential neighborhood, besides drastically increasing the massing on the site. The New Trier campus is already very significantly overbuilt for the land it is on. Additionally, NT will lose a practice football field and a softball field at a time when field space is so precious.
What the taxpayers will be asked to support, through increased property taxes, is meeting the desires and dreams of what the staff would like under ideal conditions, i.e., no financial restraints, not what is deemed necessary. Furthermore, I have talked to a number of veteran teachers, staff and mid-level administrators who do not view this plan as a necessity or as being a wise use of resources. They just don’t feel the “need” that is being portrayed to the community.
The Board is currently aiming for a February tax rate referendum to support their plan. As the superintendent said over a year ago this will not result in better education as measured by test scores. Also looming on the horizon is the fact that the school board will need to come back to the residents and ask them to pass an education tax rate referendum that will be necessary to support teachers’ salaries and core educational programs.
I agree that the Winnetka Campus could use some additional space, as special education and technology have required much more space; and our students are taking more academic classes; for example, as New Trier has pointed out, enrollment in science classes has jumped from 42% to 95% in the past 40 years. However, most of the space needs could be accomplished in the current footprint of the school. Removing the two-story Tech Arts building and the single story cafeteria and replacing them with a three to four-story structure could satisfy virtually all of the space needs while addressing most of the handicap accessibility issues on the west side. This could all be accomplished without significantly increasing the footprint of the campus or reducing field space.
New Trier’s reputation has been built by it products, that is, its students, not the physical building. I have not met one North Shore parent who did not want their child to consider an Ivy League school because it had old buildings and old classrooms. Most people that I have talked to are far more concerned about maintaining our ability to draw and retain an outstanding faculty.
I do not want to see a failed referendum, but I also do not want to squander taxpayer’s money. The burden of high property taxes is straining many residents. I also fear that if this huge bricks and mortar referendum were to pass that the forthcoming referendum for an increase in the education fund rate, which supports teachers’ compensation and other critical parts of the educational program, will be jeopardized as our community is becoming taxed beyond reasonableness. I want our community to be proud of its school for the right reason, that is — what is going on inside the walls not the walls themselves.
In 1950 Life Magazine featured New Trier and stated that it “exemplifies the U.S. public high school at its best.” The article further states, “unassuming New Trier does not look wealthy and does not act it … New Trier’s real lesson is that it is well to pay adequate school taxes and to use them intelligently.” I firmly believe that the current scope and scale of the proposed project is NOT a wise use of the community’s resources. As the Superintendent has previously stated this project will not improve education as measured by test scores. This is not the time to seek to build an edifice to the glory of the administration or the architects or even the community. Let us remember what has made New Trier great; it is the people – the students, the parents and the faculty, NOT the bricks and mortar.
If you have read this far I would like to thank you. The next question is, what to do? If you feel as I do, that the size and scope of the proposed project is too large and does not justify the large expenditures you should contact the Board of Education and let them know how you feel. Conversely, if you believe that the township should spend $180 – $200 million for the proposed upgrades contact the Board members and express your support.
Wesley A. Baumann
Board of Education members are:
James Koch, President firstname.lastname@example.org
Alan Dolinko email@example.com
Carol Ducommun firstname.lastname@example.org
Mac Harris email@example.com
Bob Merrick firstname.lastname@example.org
John Myefski email@example.com
Wendy Serrino firstname.lastname@example.org
New Trier Superintendent:
Linda Yonke email@example.com