District 220 to seek voter approval to borrow $185 million

Barrington Area Unit District 220 voters in the spring election will decide whether the district can borrow $185 million for upgrades to schools - a move rooted in a community process that began in 2017.

School board members Tuesday night voted 5-2 to place a request to borrow the cash on the April 2 ballot. Officials say the construction work would address how District 220's schools should evolve over the next 20 years.

Tentative figures show the $185 million proposal, if approved, would add $97 to the annual property tax bill for an owner of a typical $500,000 median value home in District 220.

Dissenting board members Angela Wilcox and Gavin Newman preferred going to the voters with a request to borrow $160 million. Because other debt will come off the books, that amount likely would not result in a need for a property tax increase. Wilcox said the reduced request would have satisfied her top concerns about boosting school security and conducting proper building maintenance.

"It would be a terrible shame if we went through all of this and the referendum didn't pass," Wilcox said.

However, board member Penny Kazmier, who voted to seek the $185 million, said the lesser amount would not have been enough to cover several essential school upgrades needed throughout District 220.

"I just think that our community, if we explain why (the $185 million is needed) and what it is, that is a reasonable amount," Kazmier said.

Officials said debt from the district's last round of building projects will be off the books in 2021. For an owner of a house with a $500,000 median value, the construction debt payments have been about $750 annually and are on schedule to vanish, but they would be replaced by the new round of borrowing if the $185 million request were approved.

Administrators, teachers, parents, board members and others in the community were part of a Blueprint 220 process that launched in January 2017 in an effort to devise a master facilities plan. Some of the Blueprint 220 plan, which touts flexible spaces and better technology, is what's going before the voters in April.

District 220 officials hosted several meetings over the roughly two-year process to collect residents' feedback on potential projects.

All District 220 schools would receive basic building improvements and upgraded security. The work would include better energy efficiency, bathroom repairs and improved heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems.

In addition, the $185 million plan calls for an 800-seat fine-arts center at Barrington High School along with a physical education wellness addition and a "21st-century" library renovation at that building.

Other work would include sensory and therapy rooms and kitchen renovations at the elementary schools. The district's two middle schools in Barrington would be in line for classroom additions and cafeteria renovations.

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