Warren Township 121 board to vote on borrowing $23 million next month
The Warren Township High School District 121 school board will vote next month on a plan to borrow $23 million to pay for capital and life safety projects.
The board held a public hearing on the plan before its meeting Tuesday night. Assistant Superintendent for Business Operations Mike Engel said the borrowed money would pay for completing the district's solar project, replacing three boilers at the O'Plaine campus, getting a new roof at the Almond campus, repairing parking lots at both campuses, enhancing the school's safety and addressing concerns identified in a 2016 health and life safety study.
The board and district staff did not provide a breakdown of how much each project would cost or which projects from the life safety report would be funded.
Resident Bob Johnson asked board members if they could provide more details about what the money would be used for. Board Vice President Michael B. Munda, who led the meeting because board President Thomas Drake was absent, said the public comment was not to be a dialogue and that a written breakdown would be provided later.
Resident Craig Hunter said he was disappointed the board wasn't providing more detail.
"It's a lot of money," Hunter said. "As a taxpayer who pays $11,000 each year, I would like to know more."
After the meeting, Superintendent John Ahlgrim said the board started discussing whether it would need to borrow money to pay for life safety projects last year. He said at the time the district had $7 million in its capital fund.
"We realized we didn't have enough money to pay for two of the items that we knew we were going to need to do," Ahlgrim said. "'Wait a second, $7 million isn't going to cut it.'"
Ahlgrim listed cost estimates for some of the items the $23 million would fund. The solar project would cost as much as $7.5 million and provide the district with an annual energy savings of $350,000. The roof replacement would cost around $5 million, the boilers would cost around $1 million, and the tennis courts would cost around $700,000.
Ahlgrim said the type of bond the district is seeking does not require the district to ask the public's permission.
The district has asked voters for permission to borrow money twice in the last 11 years. In 2007, voters overwhelmingly rejected a request asking to increase taxes 26 cents per $100 of equalized assessed valuation -- only 33 percent of voters said "yes." In 2008, the district asked voters to allow it to issue $30 million in school building bonds; the request was approved with 58 percent of the vote.
The school board closed the public hearing after about 20 minutes and unanimously voted for the plan to be an action item at a special school board meeting on Nov. 20.
The meeting room was beyond capacity. The crowd was mostly made up of members from the teachers union.
Union President Jason Jecmen said they attended because the union and the district are entering their fourth month without a teachers contract. He declined to comment on the board's $23 million bond issue plan.
District 121's boundaries include all or parts of Gurnee, Wadsworth, Grayslake, Wildwood, Gages Lake, Druce Lake, Grandwood Park, Old Mill Creek, Park City, Waukegan and Third Lake.