District 200 officials hope voters OK $132.5 million loan to revitalize schools

 
 
Updated 3/29/2017 9:50 AM
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  • Franklin Middle School students Darby Hagen, Anna Hudsen and Jonathan Orme dissect crayfish in a sixth-grade science classroom that teachers say is a tight squeeze. About $36.4 million of a $154.5 million building plan would renovate and expand the Wheaton school.

      Franklin Middle School students Darby Hagen, Anna Hudsen and Jonathan Orme dissect crayfish in a sixth-grade science classroom that teachers say is a tight squeeze. About $36.4 million of a $154.5 million building plan would renovate and expand the Wheaton school. Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

  • Jim McGraw finds a spot to work in a seventh-grade digital library class in a former sewing classroom at Franklin Middle School in Wheaton.

      Jim McGraw finds a spot to work in a seventh-grade digital library class in a former sewing classroom at Franklin Middle School in Wheaton. Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

  • As part of a proposed project to renovate Franklin Middle School, the district would replace deteriorating doors. Principal Dave Bendis walks out one of the building's exits.

      As part of a proposed project to renovate Franklin Middle School, the district would replace deteriorating doors. Principal Dave Bendis walks out one of the building's exits. Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

  • An overhang has fallen into disrepair at Franklin Middle School in Wheaton, officials say.

      An overhang has fallen into disrepair at Franklin Middle School in Wheaton, officials say. Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

  • Educators and architects say music classrooms are too small and lack soundproofing at Franklin Middle School in Wheaton.

      Educators and architects say music classrooms are too small and lack soundproofing at Franklin Middle School in Wheaton. Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

  • Panel dividers are set up in a gym at Franklin Middle School in Wheaton. An addition on the west side of the school would include a new gym, locker rooms and storage.

      Panel dividers are set up in a gym at Franklin Middle School in Wheaton. An addition on the west side of the school would include a new gym, locker rooms and storage. Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

  • Roughly 700 students currently attend Franklin Middle School in Wheaton.

      Roughly 700 students currently attend Franklin Middle School in Wheaton. Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

Editor's note: This is the second in a two-part series about Wheaton Warrenville Unit District 200 projects that would be funded by a proposed tax increase on the April 4 ballot.

Principal David Bendis compares scheduling classes at Franklin Middle School in Wheaton to a "logic puzzle."

It's a complicated process made difficult by the configuration of the building, Bendis says. Grade levels are not grouped together but are spread across all three floors of a school that dates to 1953.

One example of the scheduling logistics? Bendis must stagger orchestra and band classes in two music rooms split by a cinder-block wall because of the lack of soundproofing.

Wheaton Warrenville Unit District 200 wants to overhaul the building layout and expand the school as part of a $154.5 million plan that hinges on voters approving a property tax increase. Of that, the district would earmark $36.4 million for projects at Franklin -- the most of all the middle schools slated for improvements.

A question on the ballot April 4 seeks voter permission to borrow $132.5 million and to raise taxes to pay off the loan. The current board has pledged to set aside $7.5 million from existing reserves and another $14.5 million from future budgets to fund the rest of the plan.

Principle and interest payments on the 19-year loan -- issued in four phases -- would cost the district a total of $206.1 million.

The owner of a $322,300 home -- the average in the district -- would pay $180 to $295 annually in additional taxes for the first nine years of the loan. After the district pays off existing debt, that same owner would then pay $531 annually toward the retirement of the new loan, expected in tax year 2036. Those estimates assume home values will remain constant and the district's assessed value increasing by 2.75 percent in 2016 and 2017.

Opponents say the plan is too costly for taxpayers, question the scope of work and express concerns about adding to the district's existing debt obligations. The funding question also has become a campaign issue that evenly divides eight candidates for four school board seats.

Here's a look at some of the major projects proposed at Franklin, elementary schools and the two high schools in the district.

Franklin

All grade levels would be clustered together under the proposed redesign at Franklin. Sixth-grade classrooms, for instance, would move to the lower level.

A roughly 12,300-square-foot addition on the building's west side would include a new gym, locker rooms and storage. A 9,745-square-foot addition on the east side would contain some science labs and general education classrooms, according to conceptual plans.

The average size of Franklin's current science classrooms is about 420 square feet smaller than the recommended footprint of 1,440 square feet, according to a 410-page report about the district's facilities by architectural firm Perkins + Will.

As part of the reconfiguration, the school's third-floor library learning center would move to a more accessible spot on the first floor. Music rooms would relocate to the top floor with new practice spaces.

About two-thirds of Franklin's roughly 700 students participate in performing arts classes during the school day in rooms that are currently undersized, Bendis said.

The $36.4 million also would pay for infrastructure projects to repair or replace aging mechanical systems, doors and plumbing.

Elementary schools

The district would spend nearly $44 million in total projects at the district's 13 elementary schools.

The plan calls for construction of more secure entrances at Edison Middle School and seven elementary schools to lead visitors directly into front offices.

At Lowell Elementary School, the district's oldest school, visitors buzz in through the front entrance and have access to a nearby classroom and hallway, a layout that raises security concerns, Principal Kathy Melton said.

Improvements to mechanical systems would address issues cited in the facility report, including "inconsistent heating and cooling" in classrooms. And Lowell's 1990s-era roof would be replaced.

The district also would transform library learning centers at elementary and middle schools to foster collaboration and accommodate students who work in groups.

High schools

The district would allocate about $13 million for capital infrastructure projects and renovations at its two high schools.

At Wheaton North High School, the district would replace the flat roof. During particularly rainy periods in the spring, the school typically has roofing crews patching up leaks as often as three to four times a month, Principal Matt Biscan said.

The district would renovate a technology lab currently housed in a converted auto shop never designed for the broadcast media classes, graphic artists, photography students and others that use the space, Biscan said. A mechanical system meant to provide ventilation for the old auto shop is now disruptive for teens and their work producing media, Biscan said.

At Wheaton Warrenville South High School, the district would remodel the school's library learning center and replace the roof if voters approve the borrowing request.

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