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posted: 5/22/2010 12:01 AM

West Chicago Dist. 33 seeks about $43 mil for middle school expansion

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Sixth-graders in West Chicago Elementary District 33 will move to the middle school if voters approve the proposal to borrow about $43 million to build an addition.

The school board voted unanimously Thursday night to put the question on the Nov. 2 ballot. Voters turned down a $49 million bond issue request in April 2009.

Since then, the cost of borrowing, building materials and construction has fallen due to tough economic times, Superintendent Edward Leman said.

"If we can sustain the current tax rate and take advantage of the positive side of economy, we can (achieve) a really nice project for the community at a lower cost," he said. "Two years ago - or two years from now - the cost would be much more."

If voters approve the project, the district's tax rate would remain the same, instead of decreasing 21 cents as previous loans are paid off, Leman said. That means the owner of a $300,000 house would continue to pay about $210 a year in school taxes for building bond and interest until the new loan is retired in 20 years or sooner. The total District 33 tax bill for such a home is around $3,300.

The $43 million request also includes funds for renovations at some of the district's aging elementary schools.

The main reason for expanding West Chicago Middle School is to give the sixth-graders "more developmentally appropriate" learning opportunities, from more rigorous and challenging classes to a variety of extracurricular activities, Leman said.

A second goal is to free up room in the growing district's elementary schools. "We're not hanging out the windows yet, but pretty close," he said.

West Chicago Middle School now has 800 seventh- and eighth-graders. If voters approve the expansion, the school would be able to accommodate 1,500 students. The proposal also includes a new learning center, gym and combination cafeteria/auditorium.

The sixth-graders would have their classes in a renovated section of the existing middle school with "very little crossing or mixing (of grade levels) during the day," Leman said.

The next step is to assemble a citizens committee to run the referendum campaign with a special emphasis on getting parents to register and vote.

"My mantra this time is 'Parents, I want you to be the ones to make the decision; don't default the decision to the wider community," Leman said.