District 73 to seek $48.7 million for building expansion, upgrades

After months of discussion and fine-tuning, Hawthorn Elementary District 73 officials will seek voter approval to borrow $48.7 million for school renovations and expansions.

The money also would fund a kindergarten building to be attached to the Vernon Hills Park District's Sullivan Center across Aspen Drive from the district's southern campus.

The plan, including the new kindergarten building, calls for 36 classrooms and other facilities amounting to about 110,000 square feet of new space at the district's six schools.

And in a separate question, District 73 voters on Nov. 6 also will be asked to approve a tax increase to raise $1.3 million for operating costs associated with the new space.

"I think it's really what we have to do and what makes the most sense," school board member Robin Cleek said at the meeting Monday. "It's another pill to swallow."

The district is pursuing several other moves, such as restructuring and refinancing outstanding debt and looking for ways to cut costs as the questions proceed.

One expectation is property owners will pay less in taxes to the district in each of the next five years. But overall debt will be extended to 2041.

This will be the second recent attempt at a voter-backed building plan. In April 2017, a request to borrow $42 million to expand and renovate the district's six schools to ease crowded conditions was soundly rejected.

School officials regrouped, and since the start of this year, another try has been a near certainty. How much money would be requested and what would be included in the work plan have been the main questions.

Board member Jayson Tran, who was serving as interim board president in the absence of Sonali Patil, said the determined course followed six public meetings and town hall sessions "where we received community feedback in multiple ways."

"It was very open. We spent a lot of time on it, so it was not rushed," Tran said of the process to determine the amount to seek and scope of building work.

One big change from 2017 is the cost of the kindergarten building is included in the referendum request. The district originally was going to pay for it with reserves but changed the plan after bids came in $2.7 million over the estimated cost.

But revenues have not been covering costs of new students that have been packing classrooms, and the school board decided the $800,000 already spent to plan and design the kindergarten center is the limit of what will be funded from reserves.

After reviewing the overall building plan for cost savings, the board opted to include STEM labs only in the two middle schools, and not pursue modernizing school libraries.

Other factors, such as a proposed $1.5 million working cash bond issue to raise capital and various repayment options, are also in play.

Information regarding the referendum to be shared at various venues is being developed, with four or five main points expected to debut at the annual district residency event Aug. 1, 2 and 6.

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District 73 board turns focus to potential referendum

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