What voters should know about District 207's tax hike request
Maine Township High School District 207 has for months done its best to publicize its plan for $240 million in building upgrades at its three aging high schools.
The district has hosted dozens of school tours and forums, including a recent one live on YouTube. It's released online videos and mailed information to the community, met individually with the media and community members. A large section of the district's website also is devoted to the issue.
There's lots of information to digest and many points of view from the communities served by Maine East, Maine West and Maine South high schools. Here's some important information for voters to know before visiting the ballot box on Election Day.
Though the total cost of the project is about $240.7 million, the district is seeking to borrow $195 million to pay for a majority of the price tag. The remaining amount of approximately $45.7 million will be paid using the district's reserve funds.
In Des Plaines, the owner of a $245,000 home, the median value in the city, would pay $223 more annually during the 20 years that the bonds are repaid. The average Niles resident with a $271,300 home would pay about $234 more. A Park Ridge resident with a median home value of $384,000 would pay an extra $350.
Superintendent Ken Wallace said the district cannot afford to complete necessary improvements because it's unable to borrow enough money to undertake a project of this size. Without permission from voters, the most the district can borrow is about $1.6 annually, or $32 million over a 20-year bond.
"This doesn't get any cheaper or easier to do," Wallace said.
The district breaks down the proposed project into three areas: infrastructure such as plumbing, electrical and mechanical, safety and security of the buildings, and updated classrooms to create flexible learning spaces.
About $82 million, or one-third, of the proposed $240.7 million project is for upgrades to mechanical, plumbing and electrical systems. Administrators said some of these systems haven't been replaced since the schools were built, and the newest school is 54 years old.
The district also views improvements to safety and security as vital. Among other issues, not all entrances to the schools are up to date with the latest standards in security, according to the district.
Lastly, the district wants to reshape classrooms to match the newest teaching techniques and learning styles. Most classrooms would receive new painting, lighting and furniture that could be easily moved to accommodate group learning.
Each school also will have its own set of improvements, depending on its needs.
At Maine East, plans include creating a handicapped-accessible hallway and adding an elevator to access the second floor.
Maine West upgrades would include eliminating the need for students to walk outside to career technology classes and building a field house. The high school is the only one in the district without one. At 35,700 square feet, it would be the only significant new space added to any of the schools.
Maine South upgrades also would eliminate the need for students to walk outside to access classrooms and create additional space for performance rehearsals.
What if it doesn't pass
Wallace said that certain improvements included in the plan will need to be completed with or without the bond issue, specifically the $82 million in mechanical, electrical and plumbing infrastructure upgrades. Meanwhile, other parts of the project also should be done soon, he said.
"This is not something as a superintendent that I think we should kick down the road," Wallace said.
On Tuesday, Nov. 6, voters will go to the polls.
"I think they know what our track record is about being fiscally responsible. I think they know the condition of our buildings," Wallace said.