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updated: 11/30/2012 12:49 PM

District 200 considering tax increase to replace early childhood center

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  • Wheaton Warrenville Unit District 200 officials may ask voters this spring to approve funding to replace the Jefferson Early Childhood Center with a new facility.

       Wheaton Warrenville Unit District 200 officials may ask voters this spring to approve funding to replace the Jefferson Early Childhood Center with a new facility.
    Mark Black | Staff Photographer

 
 

Wheaton Warrenville Unit District 200 officials are reviewing figures for a potential referendum question in April to finance a new Jefferson Early Childhood Center.

The existing building, which serves the district's youngest learners, has remained largely untouched since it opened in 1958 at 130 N. Hazelton Ave., Wheaton. Two-thirds of the students who attend the center have special needs; the others do not and pay tuition.

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Officials say the aging facility near the DuPage County Fairgrounds no longer meets students' instructional and physical needs.

School board members have not yet determined the fate of Jefferson, but plan to decide Jan. 9 whether to put a referendum question on the April 9 ballot.

Such a question could ask voters to allow the district to issue bonds to finance the entire project cost -- estimated at $18.3 million -- or a portion of it.

"I would strongly encourage the board to consider, if we did move forward with building a new facility, that we bond the full amount because we have other needs," Superintendent Brian Harris said during a special school board meeting this week.

Robert Lewis of PMA Securities presented an analysis to the board on the impact of an $18.3 million bond issue on the district's debt service and taxpayer bills.

Another scenario would ask voters to allow the district to issue $6.7 million in bonds, if the district chose to finance the rest of the project's costs with the remainder of a $14.4 million construction grant received earlier this year from the state Capital Development Board.

In 2003, the district applied for the grant to fund classroom additions at Wheaton North and Wheaton Warrenville South high schools. In June, the school board approved using about $2.8 million of the grant to pay off a five-year lease for computer network upgrades unveiled more than a year ago.

If voters signed off on an $18.3 million bond issue, the owner of a home valued at $300,000 would see an estimated increase of $25 on the annual property tax payment to the school district, according to the presentation.

The estimated increase could change as a result of several factors, including interest rate shifts. A taxpayer with a $300,000 home already pays roughly $4,300 on the school district portion of their property tax bill.

Bill Farley, assistant superintendent of business operations, said the estimated increase would apply from 2013 to 2022 based on a payment structure on the debt that the board is considering.

Under the $6.7 million scenario, meanwhile, the property tax increase for the same homeowner would be roughly $9 a year.

Several board members expressed initial support for the $18.3 million bond issue, arguing the grant funds could address other facility needs.

While Jefferson is the board's priority, the former Woodland School in Warrenville is another aging property. The school closed in 1978 and serves as a storage facility.

"It is jam-packed," Harris said. "We've got roof issues there. We've got some significant facility needs at that site, too. It is not a long-term solution for us at all. That's why, in the near future, we've got to do something."

Meanwhile, a proposal to move the district's administrative offices from the School Service Center in Wheaton to a new Jefferson is now dead. In May, Chicago-based Legat Architects presented a design concept that would add a second floor for district offices in a wing along Manchester Road, bumping the project cost to an estimated $24.6 million.

"We need to focus on Jefferson, and we'll figure out if and what we want do about that," board President Rosemary Swanson said of the School Service Center, 130 W. Park Ave.

The move to strictly address Jefferson comes after a community survey conducted by ECRA Group. A presentation by the Rosemont-based firm earlier this month said 1,035 people responded to the survey.

"The community was very clear about prioritizing financial expenditures that improve student experiences, that decisions have to be made that directly impact students," Harris said.

Survey results also showed 34 percent of respondents favored the least expensive of three options about a Jefferson project. At a cost of $29.4 million, the option would combine a new Jefferson with district administrative offices, add storage at the School Service Center and sell the Woodland facility.

The least popular option, supported by 15 percent of responders, was the most expensive. At a cost of $38.6 million, the option also called for targeting other high-priority capital improvements.

Twenty-seven percent of respondents backed a stand-alone Jefferson, revamping the School Service Center and expanding Woodland at a cost of $29.6 million.

Also during the meeting, Legat Architects presented revised design concepts after a series of community forums in August and September at Jefferson, when neighbors raised concerns about the loss of green space in proposals.

Now, officials are looking at shifting the 62,926-square-foot proposed building slightly north to allow for roughly two acres of green space on the 10-acre site.

If voters approved a referendum proposal in April, construction could begin in March 2014, Legat President and CEO Patrick Brosnan said. Demolition of the current, 26,507-square-foot Jefferson could begin in May 2015. Students would move into the new facility in August 2015.

Jefferson staff members are expected to weigh in on the revisions, with the district reviewing their feedback, at the Dec. 12 board meeting.

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