Harper College could ask voters to pay for building plan

While construction continues on Harper College building renovations approved through a 2008 referendum, officials at the Palatine-based community college already are planning for additional projects over the next decade and beyond that likely would require voter approval.

The school has unveiled a $224.3 million update to its campus master plan that proposes a mix of upgrades to aging structures, additions and new construction.

The first and second phases - $133 million in projects to be completed by 2028 - are identified by the college's architect as higher priority, while the third phase could be completed in future years should funding become available.

Another consultant has recommended Harper invest $11 million a year for the next 10 years on general upkeep of existing buildings, including boiler replacements and new HVAC systems.

Harper officials have been discussing the possibility of going back to the voters as soon as 2018 to get approval of a borrowing plan to fund the work.

Existing capital bond issues approved in a 2000 referendum are due to be paid off in 2020, at which time property taxes are scheduled to go down. That could equate to a $23 savings for the owner of a $250,000 market value house.

But if Harper decides to go forward with a new referendum, taxes would stay at the same level, officials said.

"We're not interested in going back to the taxpayers and saying give us more money," said college President Ken Ender. "We're not in the least bit interested in increasing taxes."

Here's a look at some of the proposed Phase 1 projects:

• Renovations totaling $39 million for Buildings I and J, among the older facilities on campus. They house business and social sciences, early childhood, and career and technical programs.

• A new $28.6 million, 3,000- square-foot university center that would serve as an innovation/entrepreneurship hub, with large and small meeting spaces that could host career fairs.

• A $2.8 million soccer grass field expansion with a new eight-lane synthetic track.

Among Phase 2 projects:

• A new $24.6 million, 16,200-square-foot building that could house sciences/liberal arts, campus police or health careers.

• Proposed renovations to five buildings, parking lot upgrades, and conversion of a 4,000-square-foot room into a planetarium.

Phase 3 includes two new buildings, an 825-space parking garage, and stadium improvements such as new artificial turf, lighting and grandstand seating.

Among the $153.6 million in projects authorized by voters in the 2008 referendum, two are currently underway. A $27 million refurbishment of the school's library is scheduled for completion in fall 2018.

And officials broke ground earlier this month on a $38 million renovation of the school's Wellness and Sports Center, also expected to be complete in fall 2018.

The Palatine Park District is contributing $9 million in exchange for its residents' being able to use the indoor pool. Northwest Community Healthcare will also run a clinic within the building.

Meanwhile, construction of a $52 million student center - of which $40 million is due from the state - is still in limbo in the absence of a state budget. Work on underground utilities had already begun when the last budget expired in June 2015 and the construction site was sealed up.

Ken Ender
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