There will be a new architect for Riverside Elementary School District 96, and the two finalists are both firms who have recently worked with local school districts and were then dumped by those districts.
The school district is searching for an architect of record after completing a major renovation of its schools over the past two summers.
District 96’s longtime architectural firm, Villa Park-based Concept 3 Architects, is not in the running for the position. Mark Miller, the Concept 3 architect who primarily worked and managed District 96 projects for years, recently retired.
Despite having worked for District 96 since 2000, another Concept 3 architect said that the firm was not invited to submit a request for proposal to continue in that capacity.
“For some reason we were not invited,” said Andrew McCall, a Concept 3 architect who designed the renovation at Ames School two years ago.
However, District 96 posted a Request for Proposal in a newspaper inviting architectural firms to submit applications, and Concept 3 could have submitted a proposal as nine other firms did.
The two finalists are Wight & Company, which designed the recent renovation and expansion of Riverside Brookfield High School, and FGM, which designed an expansion of Brook Park School and a modernization of S.E. Gross Middle School for Brookfield-LaGrange Park District 95.
Both are large firms with an extensive record of school construction projects. But Wight no longer works for RB, except for completing fixes on the swimming pool ventilation system, which has been plagued by problems since it was installed.
Last year the District 208 school board hired a new architectural firm to work with the district on future projects. And FGM no longer works for District 95, whose board decided to hire another firm in the wake of the Brook Park/S.E. Gross project.
When the two finalists were revealed at a Jan. 14 meeting of the District 96 school board’s finance committee, board member Randy Brockway immediately reacted with concerns about Wight being one of the finalists.
“I’m uncomfortable with that one firm, I’ll tell you that right now,” Brockway said, referring to criticisms of aspects of Wight’s work at RBHS.
“There are some critics in town that would find Wight unacceptable,” Brockway said. “I don’t know that all that I’ve heard is true, but certainly it raises enough concerns that I’m surprised that they gotten down to where they have without more scrutiny by the committee.”
In addition to problems with the ventilation system at the RBHS swimming pool, Wight has been criticized for water seeping into the new school’s new field house.
Nine firms responded to the District 96 request for proposal. Finance committee chairwoman Lisa Gaynor and fellow board member David Kodama interviewed representatives from the three firms selected as finalists. They narrowed the choice to Wight and FGM.
Gaynor and Kodama told Brockway that they are aware of the issues involving Wight’s work at RBHS and would discuss them in further detail with Wight.
“There was pause,” Kodama said. “We liked what they said, but there was a number of issues that arose [at RBHS]. … If Wight really seems to be the leading candidate I would suggest that we really drill down on these issues that arose at RB to make sure that we’re comfortable making a recommendation to the rest of this board that we can address those issues, that those issues won’t arise here in District 96.”
Kodama and school board President Mary Rose Mangia said that the district would reach out to high school officials and others who have worked with Wight.
“We’re not going to take just one side of the story,” Kodama said.
The District 95 school board made a deliberate choice to hire another architectural firm after Oak Brook-based FGM finished its work for the district a few years ago.
“It certainly was a result of the relationship and the work that was done during that time, that the board wanted to evaluate other architects for the district,” said District 95 Superintendent Mark Kuzniewski.
Kuzniewski, who came to District 95 in 2009, said that he did not personally work with FGM.
“When I came in, the board directed me to search for a new architect,” Kuzniewski.
Superintendent Bhavna Sharma-Lewis told the board that she worked with Wight at her previous district. Director of Finance and Operations Zack Zayed said he has previously worked with FGM.
The two finalists are submitting a space utilization analysis to the district and the school board hopes to choose an architect of record fairly soon.