Last week the District 208 school board took the first step in beginning the renovation of Riverside-Brookfield High School approved by voters in the March 21 primary by hiring as a consultant someone who worked on a renovation and addition project at York High School in Elmhurst.

Taking the advice of its citizen advisory committee, and the board at its regular meeting on April 11 voted to hire Patricia Sumrow of Oakwood Consulting Services as the its owner’s representative during the construction process.

The owner’s rep in a construction project works to make sure that all decisions are made in the proper sequence and makes sure that the interests of the owner, in this case the high school, are being taken into account in the multitude of decisions part of such a large project are being made.

“Some schools don’t use an owner’s rep,” said District 208 school board President Larry Herbst. “But we decided we needed constant monitoring and a liaison with the contractors and with the community.”

Sumrow will work with the yet-to-be hired construction manager to make sure things go smoothly and with as little disruption as possible to the school during the construction and renovation process, which is expected to last up to three years.

The board voted 5-1 to hire Sumrow, who now is a consultant with her own firm after serving for 10 years as an assistant superintendent of schools for personnel and operations in the Elmhurst Unit School District 205.

There where she worked closely with the district’s architect, Wight & Co., in the renovation and addition to York High School. Wight & Co. is also the architect for the RB High School renovation project.

Prior to becoming an assistant superintendent, Sumrow served as an elementary school principal for 10 years and an elementary school teacher for 14 years. As a consultant, Sumrow has worked with her old district on the York project and has also worked with Valley View District 365 on a project involving the transfer of furniture from the old to the new Bolingbrook High School. She also worked on facility planning for Naperville District 203.

Final details of Sumrow’s contract have yet to be worked out, but she will be paid an hourly rate, which board members did not disclose or estimate, and will work on a part-time basis

Sumrow was chosen over Chicago-based Cotter Consulting, a much larger firm which has extensive experience working on school construction projects. Cotter handled project management for the restoration of national historic landmark Crown Hall on the campus of the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago and is involved in the project to add a fourth building to the McCormick Place campus on Chicago’s lakefront.

Sumrow, who runs her firm as a sole proprietor, was chosen despite the vast technical experience of Chicago-based Cotter Consulting, because the board majority felt that her educational background was a better fit for RB’s needs. She will serve as an ombudsman during the project dealing with various school constituencies.

“I really believe she was a better fit for this project,” said board member Bill McCloskey. “Her experience with the York project which is very similar would make her more expert in delivering education throughout this project. She will have a great understanding as to what is important to teachers, students, and parents throughout the process. In talking to people who have worked with her she is an excellent communicator which is vital.”

But board member Laura Hruska, who cast the only vote against hiring Sumrow, felt that Cotter was more qualified.

“The reason I voted against her was that all her experience was in education,” said Hruska. “All her experience was in one district. She’s a company of one who works out of her house as opposed to a company of 50 with offices in downtown Chicago. I don’t think she knows engineering or design.

“I think it is a great mistake not going with a company of 50 people and has vast experience,” Hruska added. “I think she is going to end up being an administrative assistant to the business manager. What does she know about concrete? I think we’re just another school hiring another administrator.”

Cotter, however, is a candidate for the role of commissioning agent for the project, where its technical skills will be the most valuable according to Herbst. The commissioning agent reviews mechanical and electrical plans to make sure they work in the design, construction and training phases.

“What we really want to do is to get the best of both worlds,” said Herbst.

The board hopes to hire the general contractor by its May 9 meeting Superintendent/Principal Jack Baldermann said.

Last night after press time, the Facilities Committee of the board met to discuss the next steps in the process. The citizens advisory committee is expected to recommend that the board seek a guaranteed maximum contract from its general contractor.

Under a guaranteed maximum contract, the board would allocate a specific dollar figure for the general contractor and if the contractor spent more than the amount, the contractor would have to make up the difference. The risk of cost overruns would be placed on the contractor, not the district.