Glen Ellyn District 41 nearing decision on $24 million referendum

Glen Ellyn Elementary District 41 is preparing to seek voter permission to raise roughly $24 million for a classroom addition at Hadley Junior High and to make repairs in elementary schools.

The school board will meet later this month with financial advisers and attorneys to begin drafting a question the district will put on the ballot in the April election.

The request will not ask voters to approve funding for full-day kindergarten classrooms after that project received lukewarm support in a survey of about 1,500 residents and district employees.

If voters approve the proposal, the district would borrow about $24 million to be paid back over 20 years.

The district's architects and construction manager continue to firm up the costs of proposed renovations and other work that would be funded by the voter-approved money.

The district plans to pay off existing debt in February 2018. That means the district's share of the property tax bill for the owner of a $373,200 home - the average in Glen Ellyn - is set to decrease $248.

The tax bill for that homeowner would decrease only about $126 if voters approve the $24 million borrowing plan.

The district would earmark the money for projects that include:

• Building a two-story Hadley addition with 11 new classrooms to replace the school's portable units at an estimated cost of $9.2 million. The roughly 1,200-student junior high is now the only school in the district with classes taught in portable units.

The district has spent about $7 million in reserves and issued another $7 million in debt to build brick-and-mortar additions and remove portables at the four elementary schools.

• Renovating bathrooms in all the district's schools to improve accessibility for students with specials needs at an estimated cost of $3 million.

• Making infrastructure repairs in the district's five schools at an estimated cost of $9.9 million.

The improvements were identified in a survey of buildings the district must complete every decade. The price tag includes roughly $3.6 million for roofing work at Hadley and another $1 million toward upgrading nearly 20-year-old wiring for the school's data network.

"One of things we've heard consistently from Hadley staff is the Wi-Fi connectivity there, anything with the internet there, is a struggle at times," Superintendent Paul Gordon said. "And when we're already in the building, that's the right time to be doing this work."

• Expanding Hadley's cafeteria to fit 100 more students at an estimated cost of $1.2 million.

Bill Foster, the head of a polling firm that conducted the survey, told the board last month the results indicated a "tax tolerance point" at between $32 million and $34 million. But he said that "sweet spot" is only one factor in the equation for voters.

"This is only 'how much money will I give you,'" he said. "It's got to intersect with some projects that people go, 'That makes sense. I think that's a good plan.'"

Citing that feedback, some board members opposed seeking funding for a $4 million major renovation of Hadley's performing arts space.

Board member Joe Bochenski cautioned that increasing the costs of the district's request could derail the entire plan and jeopardize projects that did receive support on the survey.

"By adding more improvements to that that are all valid - and we've knocked off some that are valid - we are getting dangerously close to ending up at the zero," Bochenski said.

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