Published June 25, 2015
D181 considers spring facilities referendum
By Ken Knutson
There’s little debate that Community Consolidated Elementary District 181 is facing significant capital needs across its network of school buildings. The emerging question: What will district residents agree to pay for?
At Monday night’s board meeting, district officials discussed the prospect of a March 2016 referendum asking voters to approve a bond sale for major improvements to district facilities.
An overhaul or replacement of the beleaguered Hinsdale Middle School may be the most prominent item on the wish list. But Bridget McGuiggan, director of communications, told board members they’ll need to decide whether that’s the only need they want the referendum to address.
“On the one hand, if we include only HMS, it certainly keeps the focus simple and clear for community members,” she said. “The concern about including only HMS is how we would fund other, and possibly more immediate, facility needs?”
The capital budget, McGuiggan said, cannot cover major projects noted in the recent Facilities Condition Assessment Report, such as roof and parking lot upgrades across the district.
“It might be wise for the board to consider including such items with a future campaign,” she commented.
Board member Gary Clarin responded that the district needs to clearly identify for voters which capital improvements will be packaged.
“I also think it imperative to make sure that the taxpayer understands the financial implications of all this in their tax bill,” Clarin added.
Dovetailing with the facilities assessment is an educational adequacy analysis of elementary schools being conducted by Healy Bender Architects. The firm’s David Patton walked the board through the findings of the study, showing needs related to HVAC systems, parking and drop-off/loading zones.
Educational priorities identified include technology, special needs learning, collaborative learning, early childhood/full-day kindergarten and teacher-student ratios. Space, however, does not seem to be problem.
“One of the things that we were doing was reclaiming the classrooms that you currently have within the district, and ... we found that you had about 10-12 classrooms worth of space,” he said. “It’s over half of a school that we’re able to reclaim by moving some of those (district) uses out of the building.”
That revelation negates the need to relocate fifth-graders to the middle schools, a prospect Patton admitted he initially thought was unavoidable.
“We were actually expecting to have to move fifth grade out (of the elementary schools),” he said.
Patton said the board would be well-served to have a long-range vision as it pertains to school upgrades.
“We think it’s important that you adopt a master plan,” he said. “You don’t have to do it all at one time. It can be incremental.”