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CPS move may have cost more than estimated

David Vitale, president of the Chicago Board of Education, talks with Andrea L. Zopp, a board member, at the Board of Education meeting in their new headquarters at 42 W. Madison in Chicago on December 17, 2014. | Al Podgorski/Sun-Times Media

At the Chicago Board of Education’s first meeting in new Chicago Public School facilities at State and Madison, where smells of fresh paint lingered, board President David Vitale opened the proceedings with a welcome and a reminder:

“After 20-plus years at 125 S. Clark, our new home here definitely has a new look and feel,” Vitale told the crowd in smaller new board chambers. “Just to remind you that the move to this new space, not only by this board but also by CPS and administration, will save the district $70 million over the next 15 years, savings which is achieved by reducing our downtown office footprint as well as the sale of our former office space.”

But everyone previously housed at 125 S. Clark didn’t fit into the five floors CPS leased at the new address, so the district had to spend about $23 million more outfitting two additional facilitites to house all of its central employees — including several million in spending that Vitale and four of his colleagues on the board approved unanimously after Wednesday’s meeting.

CPS rehabbed the former Dodge Elementary school building at 2651 W. Washington to the tune of about $16 million, Chief Operating Officer Tom Tyrell said in October. Dodge moved to 431 N. Troy as part of the historic 2013 closing process. About 300 employees from the Teaching and Learning, Diverse Learners and Family and Community Engagement departments now report to work there.

And hundreds more now work at a former school building at 501 W. 35th St. called TAMS, where the district keeps the bulk of its IT equipment, renovated at about $7 million.

One of the TAMS contracts — $4 million for interior remodeling and finishing of the basement — indicates that the project “resulted from the Central Office Relocation and the need to house current Central Office and satellite staffers who cannot be accomodated into the new . . . location.”

District spokesman Bill McCaffrey said it made financial sense to renovate CPS-owned property so employees could move out of leased spaces. He said Wednesday’s approved spending was included in district estimates.

McCaffrey said employees from a CPS facility leased at 320 Elizabeth St. cost about $1 million a year, so the district counts those savings over 15 years once those workers move to Dodge, breaking even.The district estimated it could save up to $60 million in energy costs and upkeep over the next decade and a half — then increased those projections to $70 million when the Clark Street building sold for $10 million more than estimated. The savings included $5 million in new furniture for the new space as well as $400,000 in estimated moving costs.

The lower level of the new building, open to the public for Wednesday’s meetin, was clean and bright. New green booths lined a lunchroom; large photos of children adorned the walls in the hallways. One office, visible from the main hallway through large glass windows, showed desks arranged in an open-floor plan.

“Nice new offices, by the way,” Chicago Teachers Union organizer Martin Ritter said to conclude his board testimony. “It looks better than every other school in the district.”