District 113 officials led residents on tours last week to showcase the needs at their two high schools that the and aim to address.
On Thursday evening, residents walked through , asking administrators and students questions about the building, the planned improvements and the projected cost.
Principal Brad Swanson said that while renovations were planned for the main hallway and library, those plans had been omitted from the $133 million referendum, which appears on the April 5 ballot. The money will be used not only for construction projects at Highland Park but also at the district's Deerfield High School.
In the B and C wings of Highland Park, residents saw the water-damaged family sciences area, the unusable food sciences area, one of the few elevators in that part of the building, classrooms, the wrestling gym and the gymnastics gym. If the bond referendum is passed, both the B and C buildings will be torn down to make way for new structures that would optimize space and traffic flow, school officials said.
“We were advised to bring [B and C wings] up to code, it was [going to cost] $10 million," school board member Annette Lidawer told residents on the tour. "It was almost like putting good money after bad,” she explained about the decision not to go in that direction.
When the subject of patching the problem areas such as windows and water damage was brought up, Lidawer said the aging buildings can only be patched so much.
Highland Park resident Rachel Heyman asked if the proposed technology upgrades to support wireless Internet access throughout the school would include a better security system. Swanson said while the current system is “woefully inadequate,” better security measures would be adopted if voters approved the .
Judy Golan, also of Highland Park, asked about the process of collecting bids. She worries the proposed $133 million in bonds is only an estimate and the actual cost will grow should the referendum pass.
“There is no room for overrun - $133 million, period,” said Paul Mocogni, District 113's director of facilities. “If something comes in too high, we have to scale back on something. There is no overrun. That includes a 10 percent contingency and that’s it.”
“There is no option to go over the referendum amount,” Swanson said. “That is a hard cap. We would make adjustments within our plans if numbers were different.”
Some confusion remains about the effect on taxpayers. While the question came up several times during the walking tour, Rick Heineman, co-chairman of Citizens Aiming for Responsible Enhancements (CARE) for 113 Schools, said that if the referendum should pass, there will be no tax rate increase for residents.
“There’s no rate increase, but it doesn’t go down,” explained Heineman of Highland Park.
“But the borrowing of that money is at the same rate of tax that you presently feel as a taxpayer,” Swanson added.
To clarify, one resident said that if the debt was not renewed and restructured, residents would save money over the next 20 years.
“That’s assuming that nothing would have to be done and over those 20 years, which I don’t think is a good assumption,” Heineman said. “But that being said, you are absolutely correct. Taxes would go down at the end of three years if nothing is done and everything is left exactly as it is now.”
Resident Mark Broutman said that if the referendum is defeated, the same needs will still exist in the years ahead and a new referendum would likely surface.
“Well then, you’re going to be voting for a tax increase and that’s how everybody is going to be shaping it: ‘They’re going to increase my taxes,’” Broutman said.
Cheryl Brom came on the tour because she was looking for more information. A Highland Park resident for only a year, Brom said she wasn’t clear on the logistics of the two high schools and was still unsure how she would vote on April 5.
Golan, who has lived in Highland Park for 50 years and whose children have attended the high school, took part in the tour thinking she would vote no on the referendum.
“Well, at first I was pretty much decided against it," Golan said. "But now as a result of the tour and everything, I can see that there is a lot of actual need as opposed to cake icing."