Published May 26, 2016
Survey says: Cost of new HMS
was too high
By Pamela Lannom
Community Consolidated Elementary District 181 board member Marty Turek wasted no time in summarizing data collected from a phone survey and an online survey about the Hinsdale Middle School referendum that failed in March.
“Doesn’t this just boil down to it’s too expensive, people don’t like the auditorium, the track and the turf and they want to spread out the payments?” Turek asked at Monday night’s board meeting.
While more discussion about both surveys needs to take place, Superintendent Don White affirmed Turek’s conclusion.
“We need to get back to that discussion at the next board meeting and draw those conclusions,” he said. “Marty summed them up in my estimation in pretty short order.”
Patron Insights called 500 randomly chosen residents in April and May to get feedback on the $65 million referendum to build a new HMS at the current site. Another 1,500 parents, residents and staff members responded to an online survey on the same topic.
“We’re absolutely thrilled with the number of people who completed the survey,” said Bridget McGuiggan, district director of communications.
More feedback is being gathered this week, at an engagement session held Tuesday night and one scheduled for 6:30 tonight, May 26, at the Administration Center, 115 W. 55th St., Clarendon Hills.
Of those surveyed by phone, 76 percent voted on the referendum and 24 did not. Forty percent of respondents said they voted in favor of the referendum and 55 percent said they voted against it.
The top three reasons people cited when asked why they thought the referendum failed, according to Patron’s weighted scale, was that the project cost was too high, the design seemed to be extravagant compared to other middle schools and the tax impact for homeowners was too much.
“One that came through loud and clear was parity related to CHMS,” McGuiggan said. “It wasn’t just people in the CHMS attendance area who said that.”
The same three factors were identified as the top reasons for the referendum’s failure in the online survey as well. The fourth reason — that the total cost of the project kept changing — had the same number of responses as did one regarding tax impact.
Many of the general comments offered in the online survey were divisive, resident John Czerwiec pointed out during public comment and McGuiggan referenced as well.
“That was probably the only real disappointing thing here is there was a blame game going on in some of the comments,” McGuiggan said.
When asked what the district should do next, 58 percent of phone respondents and 48 percent of online respondents said the district should develop a new, less expensive design for HMS.
Forty-three percent of respondents said they didn’t know what price point would be successful in a future referendum. Thirty-two percent set that number at $45 million.
As for which future election would be best to try another referendum, the most popular response was “whichever is needed to allow the time to develop a design that the community can support” (36 percent phone, 33 percent online).
A majority of respondents indicated that the elevated running track (51 percent), synthetic turf (60 percent) and 500-seat auditorium (42 percent) should be eliminated when asked if those components should be kept, eliminated or modified in a reworked design.
Fifty-four percent of phone respondents and 49 percent of online respondents indicated they would support a smaller tax increase over a longer period of time when it comes to financing the bonds, even if the move has a higher total cost to the district.
McGuiggan put a positive spin on the task that lies ahead.
“I like to think of the failed referendum as an opportunity to bring people together, to build trust, to create stronger engagement in our schools and to support the achievement of our students,” she said.
As part of that process, the district must show the “input of our stakeholders has been heard and thoughtfully considered,” she said.
Board member Gary Clarin said he believes the facilities committee, of which he is chairman, needs explore reducing costs.
“We can’t just look at two or three issues and say everything is going to be OK,” he said, referring to the track, auditorium and synthetic turf. “I can say for $45 million we’re not going to build a middle school, not anything close to what CHMS is today.”
White had hoped to have the board approve a set of district space standards Monday that would set a benchmark against which to evaluate the design of a new HMS. The standards were sent to the facilities committee for further discussion.
Survey results and other reports are posted as part of the May 23 agenda on BoardDocs at d181.org.