$50 million school plan needs retooling to draw voter support, opponents say

Supporters of measures to raise $50 million to expand, renovate and maintain the five schools in Lake Villa Elementary District 41 will be considering how to proceed after two ballot questions were overwhelmingly rejected Tuesday.

Voters were asked to allow the district to borrow $34.2 million by issuing bonds and to approve extending its debt service base to produce $790,000 in property taxes each year to offset maintenance costs.

Both were thumped, with a resounding three-quarters of voters opposed to each ballot question.

What's next? It's too soon to tell how the pitch will be modified or revised but district officials say they'll likely try again next March or November.

"I'm very hopeful we will try again in March. We need to get this in place for the community," said District 41Superintendent Lynette Zimmer.

School board President Michael Conway said fixing the schools will benefit the whole community.

"Given the nature of the work that needs to be done on our buildings, we'll probably have to go back to the proverbial drawing board," he said. "You have to keep all options open."

Opponents agree there are needs to be met but differ on how to get there.

"We really want better schools here, we want a better plan and we're willing to work with the school district to get it," said Dick Barr, a Lake County Board member and a member of the well-organized opposition group.

In that spirit, Barr added, the "vote no" group retooled its Facebook page Wednesday to "District 41 Safer. Better. More Sustainable" and has asked visitors to sign a petition asking the district to come up with a comprehensive plan.

"Instead of saying 'No,' let's work together to make this better," Barr said.

Supporters argued an assessment showed urgent needs for life safety and other projects at its aging buildings.

"Every day it's something else," Zimmer said, noting a recent water-related issue at Thompson Elementary school. Costs will increase as projects are delayed and a new plan everyone can agree with is needed, she added.

"We've got to get the yes and no people on the same page," Zimmer said.

A group called Vote YES D41 said the ballot questions were the result of collaboration between 1,500 community members who wanted to "solve the challenges the schools face in a fiscally responsible manner," according to release in February.

"I'm not sure what the plan is going to look like moving forward, because these opportunities were a collaboration with the community and truly met the needs of all students in Lake Villa 41 while lowering taxes," said Alli Chase, chair of the 'yes' campaign.

Because the district's current bond debt will be paid this year, the owner of a home valued at $250,000 would have seen taxes decrease $212 per year even if both referendum questions were approved, supporters said.

But a recommendation by district architects to spend $4.4 million at Joseph J. Pleviak Elementary School, 304 Grand Ave., was the top objection by opponents, according to Barr.

Pleviak was to have been closed in 2014 but got new life via a 10-year lease with Round Lake Area Unit District 116. Opponents argued $4.4 million would be wasted on a building District 41 doesn't use. Pleviak, which is near the busy corner of Grand Avenue and Route 83 and in the village's special financing district, should be sold for development, opponents contend.

"We would love to sell it but we've had no offers," Zimmer said.

Supporters said a maximum of $505,000 would be spent at Pleviak for life safety features before the lease ends in 2024. The remaining $3.4 million in projects would be pursued only if the lease was renewed and repairs costs would be considered in determining a new payment.

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Lake Villa Elementary District funding proposals defeated

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