St. Charles schools officials to ask voters for money, but when?
The revitalized version of St. Charles' Thompson Middle School will remain at Main and 7th streets. But how glossy that revitalization will be, and when voters will get to decide if they even want it, are still matters for school board members to sort out.
St. Charles Unit District 303 board members Thursday began honing exactly what they will ask voters for in a referendum. The tax increase request was born from a winter spent debating school closures. The closures came onto the table in response to declining enrollment and potential multimillion-dollar funding losses as the state sorts through its budget.
After deciding to keep all the district's elementary schools open, the board turned its focus to addressing the district's middle school infrastructure failings. The thinking is to combine the closure of one middle school (Haines) with the revitalization of another (Thompson) to cut long-term costs while still upgrading facilities.
Closing Haines, which board members affirmed Thursday night, will save about $2 million a year. But the district needs a larger Thompson to accommodate the Haines students who will move under its roof.
It's not clear yet how much the Thompson revitalization will cost. Board members decided Thursday they want to keep Thompson's bones in place rather than demolish the entire building and build anew. They'll also keep Thompson at its current Main Street location.
Moving the school to property the district owns on Silver Glen Road was a possibility. But the board agreed keeping Silver Glen as an asset to accommodate any unexpected future growth is a better move.
The board also decided Thursday to close Thompson during the construction. That means the final days of Haines will see an especially cramped campus. Closing Thompson during the renovation will make the construction cheaper and faster. It also will allow the district to start realizing the savings of closing one middle school earlier.
The new Thompson would open in the fall of 2019 if taxpayers approve a November tax increase.
But the November date is not a certainty. Superintendent Don Schlomann told the board he is worried a November referendum won't leave the district enough time to engage, poll and inform taxpayers about what the ballot question asks for.
Some board members agreed, saying the presidential election could draw too much attention away from the district's spot on the ballot.
But other board members said they don't want to delay savings and classroom improvements any longer than needed.
The district will engage a consultant to see if waiting until April 2017 would be better.
Whether the question comes in November or April, district officials will ramp up outreach to district residents.
One item they want to ask people about is whether the city's downtown would see a huge benefit by tacking an $11 million sports stadium onto the referendum question.
Board members all agreed the stadium is not a necessity.
However, downtown businesses were very vocal about the damage they would suffer if the school district closed its other downtown school -- Lincoln Elementary.
If they are willing to back that up with some private financing for a stadium at Thompson, board members said they are open to building it.
The stadium would put potential customers right in the heart of downtown for many of the district's outdoor sporting events and maybe some additional IHSA tournaments.
All that will be part of community forums the district will announce in coming months.