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updated: 3/7/2013 1:24 PM

District 200 hopefuls discuss Jefferson proposal

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  • Wheaton Warrenville Unit District 200 is seeking permission from voters to borrow $17.6 million to build a new Jefferson Early Childhood Center and demolish the existing structure in Wheaton.

      Wheaton Warrenville Unit District 200 is seeking permission from voters to borrow $17.6 million to build a new Jefferson Early Childhood Center and demolish the existing structure in Wheaton.
    Daily Herald file photo

 
 

Most candidates seeking election to the Wheaton Warrenville Unit District 200 school board agree something must be done with the Jefferson Early Childhood Center.

But if a $17.6 million proposal to replace the Wheaton facility is rejected by voters April 9, school board hopefuls say the district will need to reassess -- and possibly revise -- the plan before putting it back on the ballot.

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"If the voters say no, that means there's some reason they said no," said James Mathieson, a candidate who lives in Warrenville. "Whatever that reason is has to be challenged and thought through and worked through.

"I think that's what the purpose of the board is," Mathieson said. "Listen to the community once the community has spoken."

Mathieson is one of six newcomers challenging incumbents Ken Knicker, Barbara Intihar and Joann Coghill for four available seats on the school board. The other candidates seeking the 4-year terms are Harold Lonks, Brad Paulsen, Janet "Jan" Shaw, Bruce C. Fogerty and Kyle Nenninger.

When it comes to Jefferson, the incumbents say the district invested a great deal of time and effort into creating its proposal to borrow $17.6 million to build a new early childhood center and demolish the existing structure at 130 N. Hazelton Ave.

District officials have said the former elementary school is outdated and no longer appropriate to serve youngsters ages 3 to 5, many of whom have disabilities. Enrollment also has reached the facility's capacity of 289 and forced officials to add satellite sites at Madison and Johnson elementary schools.

"I am pretty confident with the survey that we did before putting the referendum on the ballot that the community understands these needs and will vote yes," Intihar said.

Several other candidates expressed doubt about the plan's chances at the polls.

While he agrees the building should be replaced, Lonks has concerns about how the project is being financed.

If the ballot question wins approval, officials say it will cost taxpayers about $23.4 million over 11 years. The owner of a $300,000 home would pay an additional $30 a year in property taxes for 10 years, and then a significantly larger amount in the 11th year.

Lonks, an accountant who lives in Winfield, said he doesn't like the large payment at the end of the loan. He said he also can't justify spending more than $23 million on a school building.

"I'm not saying that we shouldn't spend at all on Jefferson," Lonks said. "I just think we need to spend smarter."

If the ballot question fails and he's elected to the school board, Kyle Nenninger said he would like district officials to explain to him why replacing the 1950s-era building is more fiscally sound than renovating it.

"The building is below District 200 standards and something needs to be done," said Nenninger, a lawyer and financial adviser who lives in Wheaton. "That being said, I want to make sure that we're looking at the most financially prudent option. So I need to look at a refurbishment and understand why that option was dismissed."

Candidate Janet "Jan" Shaw said failure at the polls would require the district to take "a realistic look" at the Jefferson project. Shaw, for example, argues the proposed facility is too large.

Jefferson is 26,507 square feet. Its replacement would be 59,198 square feet and have a capacity of about 400 students.

"There is no reason to go with a building as big as they want," Shaw said.

To learn what voters think, candidate Brad Paulsen suggested the district might need to conduct a "debrief survey" of the community if the ballot question is rejected.

"I would look at all the options," said Paulsen, an architect who lives in Wheaton. "You probably have to take about six months to evaluate your alternatives."

An informational forum about the Jefferson proposal is scheduled for 7 p.m. Monday at Wheaton Warrenville South High School.

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