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updated: 10/12/2012 12:33 AM

Dist. 15 to tackle postponed capital projects

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Palatine Township Elementary District 15 officials in recent years have been kicking most capital projects down the road, waiting until the district found firmer financial footing.

Now, officials say, it's time to play catch-up.

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"Because of deferred maintenance, because we probably haven't been spending as much on these capital projects as we should have ... it does put us behind the eight ball," Superintendent Scott Thompson said.

District 15 has identified and itemized in great detail major asphalt, carpet, electrical, fire protection, lighting, mechanical, plumbing and roof projects to the tune of $71.9 million over the next 25 years.

More than half the work, or about $37 million worth, should be completed within the next three years, officials said. The district hopes to tackle $8.4 million in capital projects next summer.

"They're all high priority," Thompson said. "These are things we need to take care of."

Finding the money to actually do the work on schedule will be a challenge, however.

Thompson this week presented the district's board of education with four funding options to start chipping away at the backlog.

The first is to continue allocating $3 million annually on capital projects. That would not require dipping into reserves, but the district also wouldn't catch up to the scheduled work for at least 22 years.

And there's a good chance of additional costs and disruption as buildings deteriorate.

The second option would increase the annual allocation to $5 million, catching the district up in 12 years.

In the third option, District 15 would sell about $15 million in life safety bonds and couple it with the $9 million already allocated over three years, resulting in a nominal property tax increase. The bond issue wouldn't legally require a referendum, but Thompson said he'd want to make sure the community was onboard.

"We want to be acting with the support of the community and issuing bonds at this time without the community's support would, I think, undermine their trust and all the good things that have been going on in the district," he said.

In the end, the board unanimously supported the fourth recommendation, which calls for spending $6 million -- half from district reserves -- on projects next summer.

Officials hope a favorable bidding climate will stretch the dollars even more.

The district then will reassess its financial forecast, taking into account possible pension reform that could shift costs to school districts.

Next month, Thompson will bring the board his recommendations on how to spend next summer's allocation.

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