Projects funded through March referendums underway in two Lake County school districts
Voters backed work at Dist. 114, Dist. 42
On March 17, the same day all K-12 public and private schools in Illinois closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, voters in two Lake County districts supported measures that bode well for both in coming years.
The approved actions were worded differently, but the end result is that Fox Lake Elementary District 114 and Lake Villa Elementary District 41 got the green light to proceed with millions in building repairs and improvements.
To passersby, the roof work at Stanton Middle School in Fox Lake may look like a typical summer repair project.
But the size and scope is well beyond a quick fix, and so is the $1.3 million cost. The roof will be removed and replaced, and insulation installed to meet current building codes.
The last time that happened was 1973, when an addition to the school, one of two in Fox Lake Elementary District 114, was built.
Since then, the district has been repairing roofs as needed. Now Stanton and Lotus Elementary School are getting new roofs, as well as a host of other projects.
Because the debt to build Lotus is being retired, owners of a home in the district valued at $200,000 would have seen a reduction of about $394 in annual property taxes if the request to voters was rejected. Instead, payments will remain about the same, and those dollars will be shifted to general operations.
That means about $1.4 million will be available each year for a prioritized list of projects totaling about $8.5 million.
The Lotus roof is second on the list. Other projects, including fire sprinklers, air conditioning, updating mechanical controls and secured entrances, aren't expected to start until next summer.
"We're talking with architects about how to bundle the work and get the best pricing," said Mary Taylor, District 114's business manager. "The priority was the roof at Stanton."
The district bid that project before the referendum, with the caveat that the contract be voided if voters rejected the request.
Voter-approved funding also will provide higher wages to keep and retain teachers.
Last year, District 114 had the lowest starting teacher salary among Lake County's 96 school districts and 23% of its teachers resigned. A new teacher contract recently was approved.
In District 41, a cascade of major repairs and projects totaling $30.7 million is expected to begin next summer at four schools.
Voters soundly rejected a $50 million request in a 2019 referendum but were on board for a reduced and revised project list included in a $30.7 million ballot question in March.
"Obviously, we've got a lot of plans for the money," said school board President Michael Conway. "It's truly an investment in (the school) community."
The district has hired Gilbane Building Co. as project manager and will be working with engineers and bond consultants to develop details of the work to be done over the next 10 years, Superintendent Lynette Zimmer said.
"We're moving ahead," she said. "We'll try to get the best possible schedule and interest rates."
The board has been considering a 15-year bond repayment schedule. Since the pandemic started, the projected bond interest rate has dropped about 1 point to 2.47%, Conway said, which will lower costs.
A chiller at Thompson Elementary School was on the to-do list, but it recently was replaced as an emergency measure for $354,283. The district is applying for an energy efficiency grant, which could provide $25,000 to $30,000.