Elgin delays vote on leasing property to charter school
The Elgin City Council postponed making a decision on leasing property to a proposed new charter school after balking at the city's projected costs.
Elgin would have to spend about $1 million this year -- mostly in repair costs for buildings the Elgin Charter School Initiative wants to lease on the property of the former Fox River Country Day School, 1600 Dundee Ave.
"There's no frills in here. These (costs) are getting your buildings so they can be occupied," said Colleen Lavery, Elgin's chief financial officer.
A consultant's estimate showed repairs needed on the entire 19-acre property would cost about $5.2 million, including labor and a 10 percent contingency, Lavery said.
However, city staff members determined that could be reduced by $2 million because the cost of paving parking lots and streets on the property was overestimated, Lavery said.
Once the charter school opens in summer 2015, the city would spent $937,000 in 2015 and $798,000 in 2016; the cost would decrease to $79,000 in 2017 once the bulk of the repairs is done, Lavery said.
"I'm sorry; I can't accept this at this price tag," Councilman Terry Gavin said.
Councilwoman Carol Rauschenberger cast the only dissenting vote on tabling the measure Wednesday night.
Councilmen Toby Shaw said the city shouldn't have accepted the property gifted in April 2013 as part of a land transaction that involved the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority and the Max McGraw Wildlife Foundation.
Councilmember John Prigge said the city hasn't done its due diligence on the property by assessing its rental market value.
The new school, to be called Elgin Math and Science Academy, still needs approval from the state.
Of the 12 buildings on the property, the charter school wants to lease the dining hall and the property's Neil Building in June 2015, adding the gymnasium in 2016 and the administration building in 2019.
The charter school would pay $52,000 in rent starting in summer 2015, $82,000 the second year, $85,000 the third year, $100,000 the fourth year and $115,000 the fifth year. An option to renew the lease would increase the rent to $130,000 in the sixth year, and $150,000 in the remaining years.
Those figures were increased during negotiations to ensure the lease would cover all utility costs, Elgin Corporation Counsel William Cogley said.
Cogley negotiated the rent after determining what the charter school -- a respondent, along with Elgin Academy, to the city's request for proposals -- can afford.
Several residents spoke against approving the charter school lease.
The deal is a "special interest" to some council members, for whom "it's clouding the judgment of what makes most sense financially," resident Jason Dusenberry said.
Councilwoman Carol Rauschenberger's brother, Keith Rauschenberger, is on the board of the Elgin Charter School Initiative, as is Councilman John Steffen's wife, Kerry Kelly.
Kelly and Councilwoman Anna Moeller are members of the charter school's design committee.
Moeller said there is no conflict of interest.
"Because someone cares about an issue, works on an issue and also is on the council, it doesn't mean it's less above board," she said.
There are "gaping holes" in the proposal, resident Margaret Miller said.
"Let's see if you can have a fundraiser to pony up some money, because I'm really at my wits' end to pay for somebody else's dream," she said.
About 25 people in the audience stood up to show their support for the charter school.
The school would be a great benefit for the future children of Elgin, resident Kevin Echevarria said.
"We work for keeping the spirits of education alive in this community," he said.