District 220 building expansion vote looks like a 'no'

  • Barrington High School and other schools will undergo improvements if Barrington Unit District 220 voters approve a tax increase.

    Barrington High School and other schools will undergo improvements if Barrington Unit District 220 voters approve a tax increase.

Updated 4/3/2019 12:24 AM

With 95 percent of polls counted, Barrington Area Unit District 220's referendum question seeking permission to raise property taxes to pay for $185 million in building projects appeared to receive a thumb's down from voters.

Incomplete and unofficial totals from Tuesday's election showed 3,853 district residents in opposition and 3,690 supporting the move, a difference of 163 votes.


If approved, the owner of a typical $500,000 house would have paid about $100 more in annual property taxes to District 220.

"For any community to raise taxes, it's a very difficult question to put out there," District 220 Superintendent Brian Harris said. "Our situation is minimized by existing debt ... we felt it was a feasible question to go to the community with -- obviously they didn't accept it."

District officials said the construction would allow schools to evolve over the next 20 years, incorporating flexible spaces and better technology.

"There's a new board taking their seats in the next month or so," Harris said. "I think the board will have to dig in -- our needs are not going away, they're real, we have to rethink whether to come back at the next election," Harris said.

Officials said debt from the district's last round of building projects will be off the books in 2021. For an owner of a house with a $500,000 median value, the construction debt payments have been about $750 annually and are on schedule to vanish, but if the referendum request had been approved, they would have been replaced by the new round of borrowing.

Dissenting board members Angela Wilcox and Gavin Newman preferred going to the voters with a request to borrow $160 million, an amount that likely would not result in a need for a property tax increase. Wilcox said the reduced request would have satisfied her top concerns about boosting school security and conducting proper building maintenance.

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Rooted in a community process called Blueprint 220, which began in 2017, part of the initiative would have included all schools' receiving basic building improvements and upgraded security. Bathroom repairs, new roofs and improved heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems would have been among the projects.

Plans also called for an 800-seat fine-arts center at Barrington High School along with a physical education wellness addition and a "21st-century" library renovation at that building, along with eliminating mobile classrooms at both middle schools and Grove Avenue Elementary School in Barrington.

Other work would have included sensory and therapy rooms and kitchen renovations at the elementary schools. The district's two middle schools in Barrington would have been in line for classroom additions and cafeteria renovations.

Work would have taken 3½ to four years to complete, according to District 220. If the request is rejected, officials said, District 220 could not return to the ballot until March 2020.

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