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Article updated: 1/7/2013 9:19 PM

District 116 to vote next week on seeking referendum for Round Lake High work

By Bob Susnjara

Round Lake Area Unit District 116 board members agreed to decide next week whether to pursue a referendum to get voter permission to borrow $36 million for high school expansion and various improvements.

District 116 board members held a special meeting Monday night to gain information about the proposals for Round Lake High School and how the work would be financed. The board agreed to vote at its next meeting, Jan. 14, on whether to place a measure on the April ballot.

Charli Johnsos, executive director of the Fanning Howey architecture and engineering firm, said District 116 has a chance for ballot-box success if the community is informed why the high school expansion is needed now.

"You're already over capacity," Johnsos said. "You're already in high need in terms of stress on this (high school) building."

Board members have until Jan. 22 to get the referendum on the April 9 ballot.

Even with mobile classrooms at Round Lake High School, there is not enough room for students. The most recent enrollment figures show 1,985 students at the 1,700-student capacity facility, which forces a system where not all of the pupils are in classes at the same time.

District 116 would seek to borrow the $36 million through a bond sale to investors. That money would go toward 30 to 34 new classrooms, a new student commons, technology improvements, security upgrades and building improvements to allow better student flow.

Bill Johnston, District 116's assistant superintendent of business and operations, said the plan is to obtain the loan without seeking more in property taxes. District 116 would try to keep the tax rate even by restructuring debt as some loan repayments expire -- similar to what some other school systems have done.

For example, Gurnee Elementary District 56 voters in 2010 approved a measure allowing $28.5 million to be borrowed mainly for a new school. It meant they declined an opportunity for a tax rate cut in the bond-and-interest fund through assumption of the new loan. District 56 officials said payments would be made on the new loan after the old debt expires, keeping the tax rate steady.

"The tax rate would be the same, year in and year out," Johnston told District 116 board members Monday night.

Round Lake High's five-year enrollment projection is at 2,127 pupils, up from the current 1,985.

In March 2006, voters approved a tax increase that allowed District 116 to borrow $17 million mostly for renovation of John T. Magee Middle School in Round Lake. Magee, which closed due to safety problems in 2004, reopened four years later.

Hainesville Trustee Georgeann Dubersteiin told District 116 officials during public comment time Monday they'll need to keep a close watch on spending if a referendum for the high school work lands on an April 9 ballot and passes. She said there were questions about cost overruns and the high school not getting enough money from the 2006 referendum.

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