Voters reject River Trails borrowing for new school

  • Voters rejected this early learning center for River Trails Elementary District 26, which was proposed to house kindergarten and preschool programs.

    Voters rejected this early learning center for River Trails Elementary District 26, which was proposed to house kindergarten and preschool programs. Courtesy of District 26

 
Updated 11/8/2016 11:14 PM

Voters Tuesday resoundingly rejected a request from River Trails School District 26 to borrow money for a new $29 million Early Learning Center.

With all precincts counted, 4,213 voters, or 66 percent, opposed the referendum, while 2,134, 33 percent, supported it.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"We're left with the reality of not being able to consolidate and expand preschool opportunities and the reality of a pretty rapidly increasing enrollment and not having the space to fit that need," Superintendent Dane Delli said.

"Now it's a process of having more discussions with the board and seeing what they want to do to try to address those two areas of need."

Teresa VanOpdorp, a leader of the opposition, said she is happy about the outcome. "Hopefully this makes them (the school board) realize they need to communicate better with us on finding solutions, instead of tossing a $29 million building at us. We all understand that we have space issues and we're willing to pay (to address) that, but not $29 million."

Sue Stolzer, a member of a referendum advisory committee that supported the plan, said it wasn't for lack of effort that the referendum question failed.

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"We gave the voters as much information as we possibly could have. I feel like the voters were informed."

On the district's website, residents could access a calculator to see how their property tax bills would be affected.

But opponents questioned why the district hasn't tried a stopgap solution such as mobile classrooms or renovating the Park View School, especially when the enrollment trend might change. They were suspicious because the enrollment projections presented do not go beyond 2020.

The proposal called for the Early Learning Center to be built on the site of Park View School, which is leased to a private Montessori school and also houses district administrative offices. The new school would house all preschool and kindergarten, creating space at the two elementary schools for the projected increase in student enrollment.

The 50-year-old Park View structure is in need of an estimated $6.2 million in repairs, the district said.

The district says that because of rising student enrollment, its two elementary schools, Indian Grove and Euclid, are at capacity, with no additional classroom space available. Conditions are so cramped at Indian Grove, the school must offer music and art classes in a shared classroom, the district said.

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