Dist. 95 voters will weigh projects vs. lower taxes
Replacing the 89-year-old May Whitney Elementary School building, installing air conditioning in the five schools and adding so-called 21st-century learning facilities to several buildings is the aim of the $77.6 million bond request Lake Zurich Unit District 95 voters will consider on the March 20 ballot.
In deciding the issue, voters will weigh the importance of making upgrades at all eight schools against the amount of potential property tax savings.
The bond issue would replace the current $65 million bond approved through a referendum in 2000 that is set to expire. If it is approved, the district estimates annual property taxes would decrease around $14 for every $100,000 of a resident's home value. If voters say "no," there would be a greater savings -- around $118 for every $100,000 in property value.
To get out the word about the referendum, explain the property tax ramifications and answer residents' questions, the district is hosting six community information sessions. Attendance for the four sessions so far has averaged about 25 people, officials said.
"The most important thing is that people get good information," Superintendent Kaine Osburn said during a Feb. 15 session at Spencer Loomis Elementary.
Lake Zurich resident Bonnie McLeod attended that session and said she doesn't hear a lot of people talking about the issue. "It will probably heat up as we get closer to it," she said.
If voters give their OK, it will be the most expensive bond issue approved for a Lake County school district in years. Since 2010, county voters have been asked to weigh in on education-related requests 12 times and approved them half the time, according to election data on the Lake County clerk's website.
So far, no organized group has surfaced to oppose the District 95 proposal.
Lake Zurich resident Martin Filson has been the most vocal opponent, speaking at every board meeting and trying to rally residents against the proposal. Filson said he has handed out flyers in his neighborhood urging people to vote "no" so the district will remove projects he sees as nonessential, such as the 21st-century classroom spaces. Those involve science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics, or STEAM, labs for middle and high school students, as well as upgrades to libraries.
Likely the costliest project would be replacing May Whitney at 100 Church St. The district estimates demolishing the structure and building a new one on the same site will cost around $42.3 million. The new building would be built with air conditioning, 21st-century learning spaces and enhanced security -- all things the current building lacks.
The effort to promote the bond issue has been led by a five-member Future 95 committee chaired by John Alan Sfire, the founder of Lake Zurich-based real developer Fidelity Group. It has raised $19,000, according to the state board of elections website.
Kathy Brown, a District 95 school board member and a committee member, said she thinks the group been able to reach a good portion of the community with mailers and yard signs.
"I hope people will inform themselves so when the time comes they can make an informed decision," Brown said. Filson also questioned donations Future 95 has received from companies that might compete for design and engineering work for the district if voters approve a bond issue. "That stinks a bit," he said.
For example, DLA Architects, an Itasca-based design firm, donated $10,000 to Future 95. Partners from DLA Architects did not return messages seeking comment.
The projects the bond issue would fund were based on community input.
The district hosted a series of conversations about facilities in the fall and conducted a survey about projects residents wanted. Around 74 percent of respondents said they wanted STEAM labs; 66 percent wanted air conditioning installed at schools that don't have it; and 60 percent supported renovating or replacing May Whitney Elementary.
Two more information sessions are planned -- from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday at Seth Paine Elementary, 50 Miller Road, Lake Zurich, and from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. March 7 at Sarah Adams Elementary, 555 Old Mill Grove Road, Lake Zurich. When the sessions have concluded, all questions asked, excluding repeats, will be answered by district officials and posted on the district's website.