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updated: 10/7/2010 11:03 AM

District 11 seeks $8 million for upgrades

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Voters in Medinah School District 11 will decide Nov. 2 whether to grant the district permission to borrow $8 million for building upgrades at two schools and to eliminate a third.

Officials said the majority of money would fund construction of a wing at Medinah Intermediate School, 7N330 Medinah Road, that would house the district's primary school. The existing Medinah Primary building at 22W300 Sunnyside would be eliminated.

The remaining money would fund significant renovations to Medinah Middle School, 700 East Granville Ave.

"In other words, it's consolidation and student safety, Superintendent Joseph Bailey said.

If approved, school district property taxes would increase by roughly $156 a year for the owner of a $350,000 home.

Officials said upgrades and consolidation of the primary and intermediate schools are a smart move because the Medinah Primary building is nearly 60 years old. Although the district has been diligent in maintaining the structure, Bailey said, some older features simply need replacing.

"We've managed our resources well, but we have boilers that are original, original roofs, and schools were built much differently then in regard to classrooms, he said. "They were not outfitted for computers. It was pretty much an industrial design for classrooms, too, but now we do reading groups, small group instruction, and a lot of movement.

If voters approve the tax increase, one administrative position and several office workers would be eliminated due to the merger. Officials also are unsure if the old Medinah Primary building would be sold or leased. The decision process would not begin until construction begins next summer.

"With the economy the way it is, it may not be the best time to try to sell it if we could find a suitable lessee, Bailey said. "Things are volatile and they could change in six months.

Other funds from the proposed tax increase would pay for security upgrades at Medinah Middle School. The school, built in the 1970s, has locks and cameras, but officials are concerned there is no mandatory checkpoint visitors must pass before they can reach students.

"The way the building is designed, people get buzzed in and they can turn left and go to the office area to check-in, or go directly into the school, Bailey said. "Strangers can easily choose not to turn or sneak in behind someone else who has been buzzed in. Our other schools have a line of vision to the doors from the main office.

The proposed changes would move the front doors out further and create a tunneling effect, also allowing the district to build a reception office to act as a catchall.

Officials also are concerned with the drop-off area in front of Medinah Middle. The lot in front of the building serves as the drop-off and pickup area for buses and parents, as well as the parking lot for teachers and staff. Bailey said the setup causes congestion and a safety hazard in a lot that is close to the basketball courts.

Changes would include constructing a new bus area in the back of the school and creating additional parking spaces for teachers, both away from where parents drop off or collect students.

Officials surveyed residents last May to learn how many people support the proposed changes at all three schools and Bailey said 61 percent responded in favor.

"This is a small community and our relationship with them is based on trust and doing the best we can; we are not trying to sell anything he said. "We can spend $5 million to $6 million just kind of patching and fixing a boiler here and there. Or we can make these change and head into the rest of the 21st century feeling like we are really operating efficiently. The community should have a right to make that choice.