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Architect, construction manager on board for New Trier renovation

Wight & Company’s proposed renovation to the west side of New Trier High School’s Winnetka campus includes creating a new student plaza and modeling the entryway after the familiar south side of the building. | Provided
Wight & Company’s proposed renovation to the west side of New Trier High School’s Winnetka campus includes creating a new student plaza and modeling the entryway after the familiar south side of the building. | Provided

New Trier High School has taken two major steps toward their proposed renovation plans for the west side of the Winnetka campus with the School Board’s votes Wednesday night.

In addition to approving a contract with Wight & Company for architectural services, the School Board approved the recommendation of Pepper Construction to be the project’s construction manager.

The contract with Wight includes a basic 6.16 percent fee, estimated to be $5,359,200 of the $87 million cost of construction. Adding in conceptual designs, specialty services, additional services and reimbursable costs the total estimated fee could reach $6,661,000, or 7.66 percent of construction costs.

“I would say that through this process I’ve become more convinced that we’re getting a very good deal from Wight,” said board member Greg Robitaille. “Importantly, from a fiscal responsibility perspective, I’m feeling better that we put ring fences around a lot of these areas that could get out of control with the project. I feel even better about where we’re going here.”

Under terms of the deal, New Trier will pay $468,000 to Wight prior to a proposed $89 million referendum, likely to take place in November. If approved by voters, Wight will begin detailed design work on the project.

New Trier officials said the project would be completed for $100 million or less, and have pledged $11 million in reserves toward the renovation.

Board member John Myefski, an architect himself, voiced his concerns over the contract, feeling the fee was too high and the contract needed revisions. After some items were rewritten the board approved the contract with Wight by a 6-1 vote. Myefski was the lone dissent.

Additionally, the School Board instructed administrators to enter into contract negotiations with Pepper Construction to become the construction manager for the project.

According to Superintendent Linda Yonke 20 companies expressed interest and four finalists were interviewed by the facilities steering committee.

Each firm was given one hour to present to the 13-member committee and answer questions. Following the meeting Pepper was unanimously approved by the committee.

Pepper initially bid $6.5 million to manage the project, but came down to $4.6 million after the committee asked them to refine their offer. Administrators said the bid initially contained unnecessary items, including $650,000 for community engagement, which is being handled by the school and Wight.

Board member Peter Fischer cited Pepper’s familiarity with New Trier and their experience with such a unique project.

“They give us some experience in what I would call ‘shoehorning’ a project into a tight space,” Fischer said. “They rebuilt a wing of a hospital right next to the operating room and the operations continued while they were building. They have experience working in a building that has to keep working.”

New Trier would pay an estimated $50,000 to Pepper prior to the referendum vote.

Myefski again voiced his concerns, questioning the drop of nearly $2 million on Pepper’s bid. He also pointed out one bidder, Nicholas & Associates, came in $1 million less than Pepper.

The extra cost did not bother other board members, who approved the recommendation by a 6-1 vote. Myefski again voted no.

“The cheapest firm isn’t always the best firm for your job,” Fischer said. “It is our belief that Pepper will do the best job. Yes, we’ll pay a premium, but we believe that premium is well worth it.”

Administrators will negotiate with Pepper to finalize a contract, which board members will approve at a future meeting.

If approved by voters, the project could begin in summer 2015 and is expected to be completed by summer 2017, with students and staff continuing to use the campus during two full school years of construction.

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