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updated: 3/3/2013 8:51 PM

School building costs worry Oak Brook residents

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  • This diagram shows the location of a new school Butler Elementary District 53 wants to build east of the Oak Brook Public Library at the village-owned Sports Core.

    This diagram shows the location of a new school Butler Elementary District 53 wants to build east of the Oak Brook Public Library at the village-owned Sports Core.
    Courtesy of Citizens for A Better Oak Brook


A handful of Oak Brook residents expressed concerns Saturday about the potential cost of approving a pair of referendum questions on the April 9 ballot that would clear the way for Butler Elementary District 53 to build a new school to replace its two existing facilities.

Voters in the district are being asked this spring to approve a tax increase that would allow the district to seek a $15 million loan to help construct the proposed $40 million school.

In a related but separate question, all Oak Brook residents will be asked whether the village should sell up to 8.5 acres of its Sports Core to District 53 to house the new school.

Citizens for A Better Oak Brook, a political action committee formed to support approval of both ballot questions, sponsored a forum Saturday that featured an overview of the plan from school board President Alan Hanzlik.

Hanzlik said the district began evaluating its facilities -- Brook Forest Elementary and Butler Junior High -- about a year and a half ago and determined it would need to spend $12.2 million over the next 10 years to keep the buildings safe and functional. Brook Forest was built in 1971, and Butler was built in 1958.

"The problem with that, as we analyzed it, is after 10 years we will have spent $12.2 million and still have two older buildings," Hanzlik said. "We didn't want to get into the circle of continuing to invest in these structures if in fact there may be a better solution."

Building a $40 million, 120,000-square-foot school to house all the district's students from kindergarten to eighth grade emerged as the best option, he said. The district would save an estimated $28.5 million in operating costs over 50 years to help balance the cost of building new versus maintaining old, according to facility studies the district commissioned.

The 260-acre, village-owned Sports Core is the only site in Oak Brook suitable for such a school, Hanzlik said, which led the district to seek permission to buy 8.5 acres there and rent additional space for students to use as playing fields.

The village is required to survey voters in a ballot question before selling any Sports Core land, under the covenant formed when the Butler family donated the property, Village Manager David Niemeyer said.

If the majority of voters say "yes" to both ballot questions, negotiations between the district and the village could begin, but Niemeyer said the village would not be obligated to sell the property. Both referendums are nonbinding, Hanzlik said.

Residents Saturday expressed concerns about the request for additional tax revenue and Fred Cappetta voiced what Hanzlik said is a common question. Cappetta asked if the district could demolish Butler Junior High and build a new K-8 school at its 2801 York Road location.

Hanzlik said a similar option -- building an addition at the Butler site -- was explored, but it would cost between $36 million and $39 million and would require the purchase of about six homes in order to amass enough land. He said that option would leave a 55-year-old structure at the core of the school and would barely be cheaper than building new.

Residents at Saturday's event also wondered why the district is looking 50 years into the future for financial projections when technology may change during that time to make even a school built in the mid-2010s obsolete much sooner.

"I see the 50 years as just something you're doing to make the dollars and cents sound good, but it doesn't make sense to me," resident Esther Paice said.

Hanzlik said the school board is using long-range financial projections because it wants voters to think ahead before deciding whether to build a new school or maintain the old ones.

Additional voter education sessions are scheduled as the April 9 election approaches, including two hosted by Citizens for A Better Oak Brook from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday March 9 and 16 at the Oak Brook Public Library, 600 Oak Brook Road; and one hosted by the village at 7 p.m. Monday, March 11, at the Butler Government Center, 1200 Oak Brook Road.

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