District 200 voters overwhelmingly approve a new Jefferson
The third time's the charm for Wheaton Warrenville Unit District 200 officials in their quest to replace the Jefferson Early Childhood Education Center.
After two failed referendum campaigns in the past five years, voters overwhelmingly approved a measure authorizing construction of a new Jefferson directly south of the existing 1950s-era building. With all 94 precincts reporting unofficial results, nearly 72 percent of voters supported the project.
Educators and parents have long held that the current Jefferson is outdated and ill-suited for students ages 3 to 5, about 60 percent of whom have physical, mental and behavioral disabilities and receive interventions in a state-mandated program.
"I think we came together with the community to try to solve what obviously has been a long-standing challenge for us and that's improving the early learning center," Superintendent Jeff Schuler said late Tuesday night.
Voters twice rejected tax increases that would have funded a new Jefferson -- in 2013 and again last year as part of a substantially larger $154.5 million funding request for repairs and renovations at all but one of the district's schools.
This time, the district didn't seek a tax increase. Plans call for a Utah-based bank to front roughly $15 million for the project. Under a tentative lease, the district will rent the building for 20 years while paying the bank about $1 million a year out of operating funds. The district would take ownership of the building after paying off the debt.
With that alternative approach, the school board was prepared to forge ahead with construction earlier this fall, but it decided in the eleventh hour to put the question on the ballot rather than fight a lawsuit filed by former board candidate Jan Shaw, who accused officials of circumventing voters.