Mundelein-based Diamond Lake Elementary District 76 will ask taxpayer approval to borrow $11.4 million to fund a variety of improvements at its three schools, but officials stress the referendum request is for needs, not wants.
With a 4-1 vote Tuesday, District 76 became the latest school district in Lake County that will ask for help from voters April 4. Vernon Hills-based Hawthorn District 73 will seek $42 million for a 10-year building expansion and renovation plan.
Upgrading heating and cooling systems, remodeling washrooms, enhancing security cameras, replacing fire alarms, and repairing or replacing roofs are among the tasks to be done at all three District 76 schools.
"I don't feel we have a choice. We need the things we're asking for," said Kurt Preble, principal of Diamond Lake School.
To illustrate, he notes an erratic air handling system that makes it difficult to get temperatures right in various locations, including in the original 1940s-era gym that's still in use.
"There are days we have to purposefully go outside because it's too hot in here," Preble said.
Not far away is what Eric Rogers, director of finance and operations, calls the "Freddy Krueger basement" filled with asbestos-encased pipes, a huge old boiler, and a fire alarm panel a sales rep said he would like for the company's museum.
"It becomes too expensive to Band-Aid all this equipment," Rogers said. "What we're asking for is kind of our bare mechanical needs."
For several years, the district has been trying to determine how best to keep the buildings running, including the possibility of closing Fairhaven School.
"We have been on a journey, but as we looked at what it would cost to close a school, we would have had to make significant investments in the other two schools that would be beyond what we wanted to ask of taxpayers," school board President Lisa Yaffe said.
Voters will be asked whether the district should be allowed to borrow the money by issuing $11.4 million in building bonds to cover construction, contingencies, architects, engineers, and other work, including asbestos removal.
Because outstanding debt will be retired in the next school year, there would be no increase on tax bills if the measure is approved, the district said. But tax bills would not drop as much as they could, either.
"It's kind of rolling over the debt, if you will," Rogers said.
About one-third of the funds would be spent each of the next three years on a coordinated set of projects.
The work will make the schools "more safe, secure, comfortable, and efficient, with the goals to improve the learning environment and attend to serious deferred maintenance," consultant Seymour Schwartz reported to the board.
It is considered catching up for years of underfunding, he said. When complete, energy and maintenance costs would be reduced, he said.