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Thursday, June 17, 2010 01:42 am

Board expects vote on school construction plan


The Phase One proposal includes additions to Southeast High School totaling $30 million.

The District 186 school board could approve on Monday five new middle school gymnasiums, two rebuilt elementary schools and several additions to Southeast High School as the initial projects in a two-phase construction plan.

A comprehensive plan including all of the elements outlined in “Option B,” the $231 million plan to revamp all of the district’s high schools, may still be a long way off, but board president Bill Looby expects to call Phase One for a vote next week.

The Phase One projects, which District Superintendent Walter Milton has in the past called “low-hanging fruit,” would have a planned completion date of 2019. The gyms would cost an estimated $15 million, the elementary schools about $13.3 million and the Southeast additions about $30 million.

“I think what we’re working toward is making sure that we move on the front-end projects and tell the community that this is the plan and those projects have been identified,” Looby says.

The district can rebuild Enos and Matheny-Withrow elementary schools with health/life safety bonds, which don’t require a referendum, but the board is asking Sangamon County voters to support a 1 percent sales tax increase this fall to fund the gyms and future high school construction.

For board member Cindy Tate, who says she’s still undecided on the two-phase proposal, the gymnasiums are the only definite at this time.

Due to a state mandate requiring daily physical education, the “space-poor” district must make the middle school gyms the priority and build them within the next few years, board member Nick Stoutamyer says. Right now, the district operates under a waiver, allowing it to ignore the mandate, but districts can no longer renew such waivers after 2013. Stoutamyer says he’d prefer to see more expensive projects, such as rebuilding Lanphier High School, completed as soon as possible to take advantage of today’s market prices, but adds that he’s willing to compromise.

The Phase One proposal would also include adding 10 classrooms and a new gymnasium at Southeast High School, Looby says. Those changes are “scaled-back” from what the board approved last year in Option B. “It’s cheaper, so it can be done quicker and earlier … and the kids over there need the space more,” he says.

The funding and completion dates of the remaining Option B elements, which Tate describes as “moving targets,” are topics for continued discussion. Those elements include building a new high school on Koke Mill Road, rebuilding Lanphier High School and turning Springfield High School into a magnet school and administrative center. Looby says the board will continue to discuss alternative funding options, including lease agreements and government grants, for Phase Two in the coming months.

“I think the short-term, the Phase One, is the most important piece,” Looby says. “It’s important that we come up with a plan, and [Phase Two] is kind of spending money that we haven’t generated yet.”
Looby says he also hopes to present a resolution at the next board meeting detailing a commitment to property tax relief should voters approve the proposed sales tax increase.

Board member Art Moore says he’s ready to support Phase One and the property tax abatement proposals, but emphasizes that the remaining portions of Option B are simply guidelines. “I believe that we have to be careful with whatever we do. If we’re looking at a long-term construction plan, we as a current board cannot obligate a future board.”

Looby says he’s optimistic that some school board members will agree with the two proposals, but he hesitates to say the plan will meet a consensus.

Contact Rachel Wells at rwells@illinoistimes.com.

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