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posted: 2/16/2014 1:01 AM

District 200 headed toward 'much-needed' facility improvements

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By Brian Harris
Wheaton Warrenville Unit District 200 superintendent

This summer, pending a school board's issuance of $10 million in new working cash bonds, schools across Wheaton Warrenville Unit District 200 will see some much-needed facility improvements.

Issuing bonds for capital projects at this time ensures that critical projects across the district can be completed and allows the district to realize low interest rates while restructuring some of our long-term debt.

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Similar to taking out a home equity line for home improvements, we intend to utilize up to $10 million for capital improvements and energy efficiency projects this summer. At its Jan. 22 meeting, our board voted to approve a resolution to issue the bonds. Until Feb. 26, community members have the opportunity to weigh-in on the board's intent to issue new Working Cash Fund Bonds.

Over the past several months, our facilities committee has met with representatives from the district's architecture firm, Legat Architects, along with Performance Services, a performance contracting firm, to identify critical capital and energy efficiency projects at 18 of our 22 facilities that require immediate attention.

This summer we hope to lay down new asphalt; upgrade major mechanical systems; replace two roofs; install upgraded fire alarm systems; complete several lighting replacement projects; and install new heating and cooling systems across the district. All of the mechanical, lighting and roof upgrades also will allow the district to see critical energy savings.

Issuing working cash bonds for capital projects is incorporated into a longer term plan for us to level out and refinance our existing debt payments. Of the $10 million we anticipate borrowing, we estimate we will pay back $13 million in total due to low interest rates.

The low interest rates, combined with a strong refinancing plan, is a financially prudent decision on behalf of board and district leadership.

In addition to the $10 million in bonds, we will utilize recently awarded grant funds to cover some of the roof costs at one of our schools. As always, we will continue to apply for additional grant funding as it becomes available.

Currently, District 200 has debt that extends through levy year 2023. When we complete the phases of the refinancing plan, the debt service would be extended two additional years to levy year 2025, ultimately reducing the annual debt payment from a peak of $29.1 million to $21 million.

Even though the debt payments are extended by two years, it is anticipated it will be at a lower rate, potentially saving taxpayers millions based on current market rates.

This is not the first time in recent history our board has restructured existing debt to save taxpayer dollars. In 2012, we used proceeds from the sale of the Hubble property to restructure and pay down high-interest debt and ultimately eliminated nearly $7 million in debt service.

We know there are critical projects in our schools that require our attention. We have a great opportunity right now to borrow funds at a low rate and refinance our debt, utilizing taxpayer dollars responsibly and cautiously.

I encourage you to visit our website, www.cusd200.org, for more information about student learning, our finances, our community engagement program -- Engage 200 -- and more.

In fact, come talk to us from 7 to 9 p.m. Feb. 19 at Monroe Middle School during our second community engagement session. We will be discussing student achievement. I hope to see you there.

• Brian Harris is superintendent of Wheaton Warrenville Unit District 200. His column appears monthly during the school year in Neighbor.

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